Bits & Pieces

Robin Williams on Keith Jarrett

RIP Robin Williams, who, in a fun & fascinating AMA on Reddit, stated he was a fan of jazz and Keith Jarrett’s solo concerts. He titled his interactive thread “It’s time for a convoluted stream of consciousness”, which, I suppose, is how some might describe both Jarrett’s solo concerts and a Robin Williams routine.

I’ve re-listened to Ritooria from Jarrett’s ECM debut, Facing You, a handful of times in the past 24 hours. The development of his complex right-hand noodling over an original, tonally ambiguous chord sequence is compelling stuff. From the opening pin-pricked staccato notes to wave-upon-wave of cascading angular demi-semi-quavers, Jarrett’s outpouring of melodic material is a lesson in compositional risk. Thanks to London-based photographer, Mat Smith, there is a fine transcription of the piece available for free here.

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Recently discovered the Reddit Jazz Listening Club. It’s already 81 weeks in and the latest album is Vijay Iyer’s Solo. I love this album – his version of Black & Tan Fantasy, shorn of any overindulgence, is incredible.

Iyer’s personal approach to jazz piano is inspiring; a very distinct voice influenced by individualism (Thelonious Monk, Sun Ra, Herbie Nichols) and a pervasive desire for exploration (John Coltrane). I will definitely be dropping a paragraph or two on to this thread.

Interesting and informative article about Vijay Iyer and his music, via JazzTimes, here.

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Very interesting piece over at TechCrunch; The Server Needs To Die To Save The Internet. The opening paragraph caught my attention, concisely putting into perspective the financial (and thus dominant) reason why reaching personally targeted content can be such a hurdle…

“Do we have the Internet we deserve? There’s an argument to say that yes, we absolutely do. Given web users’ general reluctance to pay for content. We are of course, paying. Just not with cold hard cash, but with our privacy — as digital business models rely on gathering and selling intel on their users to make the money to pay (the investors who paid) for the free service.”

The jist? Replace the current server & datacenter based model of the internet with a peer-to-peer infrastructure…

“Basically, the users of the network are also acting as the network infrastructure by donating a portion of their spare hard drive capacity — with built in incentives for them to do so in the form of a network specific cryptocurrency (called SafeCoin).”

A socialist-based version of the interwebs?! Clever stuff, but will the cryptocurrency offered as reward for making available free space on your PC at the very least cover the cost of a decent broadband connection? It does sound like an admirable an ambitious prospect nonetheless.

I’ve only recently discovered TechCrunch, but I’m already impressed with the quality of their on-line journalism. Here is another interesting article on Twitter’s current obsession with popularity and how this is changing the content of your news feed; “just because something is popular does not mean it’s relevant.” Couldn’t agree more.

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Great new single by Jason Moran available from iTunes. Moran is one of my fav contemporary pianists around & his interpretation of Fats Wallers’ Ain’t Misbehavin’ is lush, groove-inflected jazz. Moran’s touch on the rhodes when flirting with the melody is a lesson in delicacy and panache. Check out the video for Ain’t Misbehavin – using found period footage – here.

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Pop Meanderings: Wild Beasts, James Blake & Aphex Twin

Whilst I may still be alive (and relatively well) I’m pretty sure the length of time it’s been since my last post has dwindled any interest in this fact to zilch. My lack of activity is not the result of any faded zeal for my usual subjects, rather my busy work and ‘out-of-work’ life (the word ‘social’ in this context makes me cringe) has left me embracing any free time as an opportunity to dollop. So, in yet another attempt to kick-start this thing, “here are the breaks”

As far as indie music goes (by that I mean anything NME might champion) Wild Beast’s Present Tense album aint that bad. I particularly like the opening number, Wanderlust, comprising of a descending synth bass-line, a crescendo choral arpeggio and a 6/8 time signature. Such retro sounds and uncharacteristic time signature appeal – plus, any tune that stirs the image of a nutter patrolling the city’s streets is alwite by me.

Other tunes of note are Mecca (although it does veer into turgid territory ever so slightly), Sweet Spot (with it’s glacial backing harmonies and penetrating synth melody-line towards the end) and A Simple Beautiful Truth (an all-round great pop tune with a fun video to accompany it). In a nutshell? Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy with a Shoreditch twist.

Continuing in the ‘pop’ vein, Overgrown by James Blake is a gorgeous record, containing a series of delicately sketched, heartfelt compositions. His voice is sincere and yearning, without falling in to whimsy, & his palette of urban-centric sounds are all given plenty of breathing space. Uber-reverbed acoustic piano & poppish keyboard riffs drift across sparse, off-kilter 2-step beats & saturated kick-drum thumps, all peppered with hip-hop explosions & city sirens.

I Am Sold is a great example of Blake’s eye for compositional development – a refusal to allow a tune to stagnate in its own simplicity and repetitiveness. Opening with layered, interweaving vocals, echoing above impressionistic piano chords, Blake juxtaposes this against a build-up section of bass drenched kicks, eventually dropping the earnest chorus. This is exciting, forward thinking pop.

Check-out Retrograde and To The Last from the record as well, both tunes highlighting Blakes panache for timing. Below is a great clip of Blake performing Retrograde at Glastonbury. I personally couldn’t think of anything worse than standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a field for days on end (covered in mud, tired, and surrounded by the Nathan Barley generation – see the mass crowd arm-bopping at 2:23min in the below video), however I would have suffered such a fate to hear this live. Blake uses some really nice, jazz-oriented, chord substitutions here – and I love the synth drop…

I read today Aphex Twin will be releasing a new album, SYRO, his first since 2001′s Drukqs. The fusion of Erik Satie inspired prepared-piano etudes and cutting edge IDM on his last album was inspirational, so I wait with bated breath. Quick thought though; Is his decision to release a fresh album this year anything to do with the recent Caustic Window LP Kickstarter campaign? A worthy mission initiated by devoted fans to get the unreleased 1994 album available for all to hear. Who knows? But for what it’s worth Squidge In The Fridge is the best tune by far from that album. With its 8-bar drum turn-around phrases, a looping, squelchy synth sample and 90′s dance piano riff, it’s a discovered classic.

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Keeping abreast of things…

Ooh er. Ok, it’s been a while, I admit. We’re well into 2014 now and I’m only just updating the ol’ blog, but it’s not been for the want of trying! Work at the 606 was pretty manic in the months leading-up to Christmas (which certainly is not a bad thing!) so extra curricula activities were unfortunately put on hold.

I tend not to talk too much about my role at the club, as I’m conscious of maintaining appropriateness and boundaries, but I feel a post on just some of my activities of late in relation to the 606 would be interesting.

So, I’ve recently been given the Events Manager role, which at its height is simultaneously exciting, interesting, physical, administrative and creative all sprinkled with a pinch of stress. But hey, that is life is it not?!

I particularly enjoy arranging daytime hires for filming and recording. The fascinating people one meets, whilst helping fulfill their incredibly personal projects and artistic visions, can be very demanding yet always aesthetically broadening – especially if you’re asked to be involved!

For 60 Minutes Australia we had 606 Club favorite Charlie Watts down to be interviewed with Charles Wooley (who loved the vibe of the club and promised to return when back in the UK). It was a fun, informative interview to help promote the Rolling Stones Australian leg of their 50th Anniversary tour this year. I have embedded the video below with a cool screen shot of Charlie with the house kit (yes, he is a fan of the Yamaha). Charlie’s interview at the club starts around the 3:35 mark.

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In terms of broadening ones tastes, my favorite shoot of last year was for Sinfini music, where we had world renowned Cellist Steven Isserlis with Britain’s leading classical pianist, Sam Haywood. What a treat that was. Its not often pure contemporary classical music is performed at the club, and speaking to the guys afterwards they felt the reverberations of the box-like space worked well acoustically. The Cello melody is certain sonorous in the video below. The music is Waldesruhe (Silent Woods) from The Bohemian Forest by Antonin Dvorak.

Leading critic and journalist, Norman Lebrecht, who writes the influential Slipped Disc music blog, interviewed Steven afterwards in our members bar.

I wasn’t trying to be ironic when I chose my Charlton shirt that morning; I was just trying to bring a touch of class to proceedings.

P1000947A wonderful young filmmaker, Robin Hudson of Del Vecchio Productions, used the club to film some scenes for his “fucked-up Alice in Wonderland,” neo noir short, AnnA. Speaking to Robin after the shoot I mentioned in passing that I was a musician. This eventually led to me lending my pianistic skills to the soundtrack of the film, with Robin layering the vocals of model/actress/vocalist, Iraina Mancini, on top. The film is below, and there is a nice review of it here.

For some wonderful snaps of the club let me direct you to fashion photographer extraordinaire, Alexandra Leese, who utilized the 606 Club space for an ‘old school, basement club, jazz vibe’ effect. It was a fashion shoot for Carbon Copy magazine and I’ve embedded a couple of my favorite snaps (one of them even makes the ceiling look smart, that’s how good she is!) but do have a look at them all on her site here.

Bar Window, best view in the house, minus the smoking unfortunately.

I think that’s enough for now. There’s plenty more I could go into but that gives a brief overview of the type of daytime hires I orchestrate at the 606. We have a filming coming up, plus a very high profile TV show was filmed here recently which is yet to be broadcast so I can’t officially go into detail with that yet, but do stay tuned.

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Aren’t foreigners funny…

Or specifically, in this instance, don’t foreigners eat funny foods?!

Whole television programmes use to be dedicated to highlighting the differences between the British and the rest of the world – Tarrant On TV and Clive James on Television immediately spring to mind. But now, in the multi-cultural hub that is London, such comedic cultural confusions are literally on your doorstop, or rather the local Woolwich Tesco Superstore…

CockTop-shelf soup mix.

ShitoPlenty more out the back, if need be.

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London at night, by bus…

London at night, by busTaken on the Number 11 bus, entering Parliament Square, 2013.

 

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Ritual…

I’ve just finished digesting Graham Masterton’s Ritual, a riotously fun, horror-adventure tale. This outrageous and gripping book tells the story of restaurant critic-come-absent-father, Charlie McLean, who tries to heal the tears of his strained relationship with teenage son, Martin, by inviting him on a road trip around the Connecticut area whilst sampling the eateries of the isolated, rural region. Martin is soon in trouble, lured into an extreme Christian cult called the Celestines, whose central belief is a literal interpretation of the eating of the body and the drinking of the blood of Christ. Apparently, as we’re all created in the image of God, if we cannibalise ourselves to the maxim, until we are nothing more than a skinless head and torso, such a sacrifice would guarantee a spiritual place by God’s side. Martin, seduced by the camaraderie such actions evoke, and the possibility of obtaining the ultimate father figure, soon leaves his hapless dad behind, forcing Charlie to step-up to the plate, track him down, and hopefully de-programme him.  All before Martin gets the knives and forks out. 

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One of Masterton’s skills is his ability to tease the reader with horror, sparingly but effectively. He uses graphic depictions to elevate a typical missing-child plotline in to a story brimming with tense, nauseating, literary canapés.  The scene when Charlie is obligated to butcher and consume his own finger for example, when attempting to stealthily infiltrate the Celestine Order, made me feel quite nauseus…

Charlie said his own silent prayer. Then he adjusted his grip on the scalpel and scratched a hesitant line around the base of his ring finger. He scarcely drew any blood; but it stung, badly. Everybody in the room was watching him in silence.

He clenched his teeth together, and cut more deeply into the top of his finger. Surprisingly, he felt no pain at all, but the sensation of sharp steel touching his bare bone made him shiver in his seat… He picked up the small saw… Charlie drew back the saw, and then rasped it forward over his fingerbone. He didn’t know whether he screamed out loud or not… Mechanically, Charlie sawed at his fingerbone again, and then again. The pain was extreme, but the vibration of the saw teeth all the way through the nerves of his hand and up the lower part of his left arm was even worse. He sawed and sawed and then suddenly felt Xavier’s hand on his shoulder. ‘You should stop now. Your finger is off. We don’t want you to damage the table. It’s antique, you know.’

Page 229 – 230

I’m not ashamed to admit that typing the above quote certainly made me sweat. I’m always amazed by the power of the written word to induce a physical reaction, be it a belly laugh or a sickly regurgitation.

Masterton doesn’t just stir gory graphic imagery. The more overtly creepy scenario is also set-up to grasp the reader’s attention, such as this depiction of Charlie’s restaurant-set nightmare, instilling an early mood of looming danger…

He half dozed for a while, and dreamed that he was eating dinner in a strange high-ceilinged restaurant with a long white napkin tucked into his collar. The waiters were all hooded, like monks, and they came and went in silence, carrying plates and wheeling chafing dishes… He turned. A monk-waiter had brought his meal, concealed beneath a shiny dish cover. The monk-waiter’s face was as black as the inside of a clothes closet. ‘Your dinner, sir,’ he whispered seductively, and raised the dish cover with flourish.

Charlie looked down at his plate and screamed.

The plate was brimming with thin, greyish soup, in which Martin’s face was floating, staring up at him in silent desperation.

Page 58 – 59

It’s the simplicity of Masterton’s narrative that struck me, allowing for the atmosphere of the scenario to permeate ones consciousness. Masterton doesn’t over analyse his set pieces, or bog them down with unnecessary rhetoric. Rather, he constructs just the right amount of verbose scaffolding, allowing his ideas to securely stand proud. 

The most striking central theme to the novel is the idea of the community secret and the unspoken truth. With the ever-increasing accusations of sex abuse carried out by high-profile public figures post Jimmy Savile in the UK, the relevancy of such a topic is undeniable.  The rabbit-hole goes far deeper though, as once Savile had died, and the truth was finally reported, the general British public have had to listen to a swarm of celebrities, all eager to get another 5 minutes in the spotlight, acknowledging his crimes were well know in media circles. Yet at the time they all did NOTHING! This is not a tenuous link; it demonstrates the power of literature, no matter how pulpy, to symbolically shine a light on real, dark events…

‘Then the police know about this place? They know what you do? And they haven’t taken any action to stop you?’

‘My dear sir, the whole surrounding community is aware that there is something special about Le Reposoir. Many consider us frightening; at least until they have the opportunity to see for themselves the true significance of our rituals. I suppose you could say that there is a parallel with World War Two, when many German citizens living close to concentration camps were aware that there was something of great drama happening in their district, but preferred on the whole not to investigate too closely. Of all creatures, man is the most incurious, believe me.’

Charlie said, ‘Haxalt knows, doesn’t he? The president of the savings bank?’

M. Musette nodded. ‘Almost all of those with senior civic positions in Allen’s Corners are aware of what we are, and what we do.’

‘Then why –?’

‘Because many of their sons and daughters have joined us. Because many of them have joined us.’

Page 131

A frightening thought yet a too often ignored truth, mans inclination to demonstrate false-ignorance when it benefits them. 

It’s not all dark and foreboding, Masterton finds opportunity to plant some nice comic relief (note Xavier’s finishing line in the finger-chopping quote above), such as the scene when Charlie first realises his son is missing and tries to report this to the local police…

‘You were sleeping with a lady and when you returned to your room you found that your son was no longer there?’

‘That’s the nub of it, yes… I’m a restaurant critic, I travel around eating in restaurants and writing reports.’

The lean deputy nodded his head towards the Windsor. ‘What do you think of this place? Stinks, don’t it?’

‘Deputy, I’m interested in finding my son, that’s all.’

Page 96

Without giving too much of the plot away my aim has been to entice you enough to hunt down a copy of the book for yourself. I’ve purposely ignored David, the self-inlficted dwarf, as well as the thunderous ethereal climax and all of the well-paced action sequences, of which there are plenty. But as always, and I hope I’ve demonstrated this, beauty is in the fine detail. 

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Society…

I’ve spent my weekend enjoying the raw thrills of low budget horrors, a homage to my misspent teens shall we say, when I would scour the second-hand shops for rare, preferably pre-cert, VHS tapes. Of course it wasn’t only used videos I was after – I’d say 90% of my Miles Davis CD collection had at least one prior owner – but the genuine buzz of finding an uncut pre-cert Video Nasty, in an era when the BBFC were not shy to get the scissors out on re-releases, could not be beaten – especially for a nerdish sort with a penchant for a bit of the old ultra-violence.

Those book-sized cassette cases resonated with me. I still see them as technological fossils from a recent past, when the home video market literally had NO regulation (hence the phrase ‘pre-cert’, as in pre-certification). Watching such horrors on a re-mastered DVD or Blue Ray just isn’t the same, no matter how nice the print is. Such clean viewing kills the sleazy, illicit vibe of worn tape, and thus the intention of the film in the first place. Video Nasties garnered their following due to their prohibited, and at times outright banned, stature in society. The thought that “I’m not meant to be watching this” made me want to watch it all the more.

EBay is a drain on the funds of any collector of media, and I suspect a few upcoming posts will be a reflection on recent winning bids. However the film I want to briefly comment on in this post is technically not a Video Nasty, and due to its release date (1989) could never have been a pre-cert. Yet unlike most horrors it has left a deeper, darker impression on me than my initial viewing of it, some 12 years ago.

Society, the directorial debut of Brian Yuzna, previously producer of such mid-80’s Americana treats as From Beyond and Re-Animator, is a relative slow-burner. We are invited to follow high-school protagonist Billy Whitney on his paranoid journey to discover the truth behind his socially upstanding peers, family and associates.

Infrequent depictions of gore pepper Billy’s celluloid descent down the rabbit-hole, culminating in a biological orgy of flesh-melting, mass humanoid forming pleasure. The erogenous catalyst for such a display is a horrified, kidnapped, sacrificial serf, whose own plump body gets oozily spread amongst the faces and torsos of the ruling elite. His final demise is called a “Shunting”, when one of the lead antagonists shoves his fist up… well, you can imagine! The most cutting satire is always painful to view.

The rich literally feed off of the poor, slurping the nutrients from some unfortunate schmuck’s body. Anyway, just by chance, this article and photo appeared in the Daily Chimp today…

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Talking of those who drain the poor’s resources, there’s Pippa Middleton, third from left. What a fine bunch of rosy-cheeked, blood thirsty, aristocratic English ladies. Smiling over 50 bird carcasses that were bred purely to be shot. She’s got form this girl. Makes you proud doesn’t it, to salute the flag and bow to the royals? Naïve, jingoistic nationalism does grate on me. I can understand it from the future WI members above, but what extra potato have the royals ever put on my plate?!

Anyway, Society. It’s good. Watch it. And as I mentioned earlier, a little bit of life experience makes the film even more explicitly symbolic.

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