Essay

“Tenderly”

Originally published in 1946, with music by Walter Gross and lyrics by Jack Lawrence, most notably recorded by Sarah Vaughn, this standard has been published in several striking colors and shapes: generally in Eb, and in either 4/4…

or 3/4 time:

Of the literally hundreds of recorded versions of this song, I in particular dig eleven– those of:

Chet Baker/ Miles Davis (trumpet);

James Carter (bari sax),

Don Byas, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins (with Lionel Hampton), Lester Young, David S. Ware and Dexter Gordon (tenor sax);

Eric Dolphy (solo bass clarinet);

and Billie Holiday & Amy Winehouse (vocal).

Particular Highlights?

Chet Baker: a familiar recitation of the minimal number of notes necessary to recognize the melody (C-D-F E on trumpet); this is my favorite version, probably, with hundreds of plays on iTunes… Chet establishes a familiar refrain (A, A#, E, F), this showing up several times during the piece, and one on which it ends.

Miles Davis: impatiently blurts out the melody at 0:20 (from Miles Davis live at Birdland, 1951-53)…

Don Byas, also with a bitchin version (playing with Sir Charles Thompson, replete with a very cool cover)– Byas’ signature “could be crazy loud and brash because of the mechanics of his mouthpiece setup, yet rarely is, and is usually quite subtle” tenor sound, adding a bit of grit and pathos to what could become syrupy… Byas’ muscular playing (especially for the time), replete with his (at 6:45) restatement of the melody in three octaves, makes this a great version, and just behind Chet Baker’s. Ends at 7:00 with beautiful, quick and gentle “inverted U”-shaped runs runs through the melody, à la Coleman Hawkins….

James Carter’s starts with a very fragile trumpet with the melody, and his bari sax playfully in the background… a Loki to the Thorish trumpet…

David S. Ware’s version is Albert Ayler-ly awesome… but don’t take my word for it: read this and see what you think.

It’s a great, simply, emotionally-moving tune– no wonder so many greats had such fun re-reading it.

Because It’s Hallowe’en: How to Psychologically Engineer Death/grind

Having recently, for whatever reason (paging Doctor Freud) been listening to a shitton of death/grind, and being the in the psychological sciences and all, I naturally came to wondering about the possibility of shaping the behavior of (“engineering”) a musician who loves to play death/grind?

Not unlike John B. Watson (the behavioral psychologist, not the “thin as a lathe, brown as a nut” one) and Professor Higgins, I was thinking about designing, though shaping of behavior, a death/grind musician– my pigeon, my little Albert… my Doolittle of deathgrind.

Step 1:

Begin with your subject pool, technically accomplished musicians: they know their scales, key signatures, modes, and can generally read music, at least to an extent;

Step 2:

Make them love progressive rock and metal, but long for something even harder to play (especially for drummers);

Step 3:

Now quickly, before they quite naturally become a tech-death band, tell them they can only play punk/hardcore covers or some derivation thereof;

Step 4:

(This is the pivotal part)– introduce great trauma into their lives. And I don’t mean being annoyed or bored or even genuinely angry (like punk/hardcore)– I mean extended, reinforced, seemingly-at-random abuse of some kind, be it verbal, psychological, physical or sexual (and don’t’ let them talk about or process it with anyone else, ever)– that leads to things like:

demonstrating very disordered thought processes that will tend to manifest under stress;
being overly intense in emotional displays (these lapses in regulating feelings generally being highly inappropriate and maladaptive);
having low frustration tolerance;
and being prone to lose control.

Once you’ve installed these wildly pathological stimuli, serve and enjoy deathgrind!*

Happy Hallowe’en!

*Note: approximately 1 in 5 of these subjects will exhibit severely maladaptive behaviors, namely serial crimes, most likely serial sexual homicide. Results may vary. Not applicable in NH, MA, ME or NY.

An unethical, dangerous, possibly blasphemous, essentially evil… and brilliant idea

So I love Disney Channel pop music.

There.

I said it.

I realized I had to come clean with this, when I was recently perusing the stats on my iTunes and Zune playback.

It turns out that lately the two highest– the chart-toppers, as it were– were both from the soundtrack of the Disney Channel Series© Shake It Up.

Ahem… they were the Shake It Up theme song and the delightful number “Watch Me,” done, of course, by series stars Zendaya* and Bella Thorne.

I dare you to click on either link and listen. And NOT hum the song for a week.

They’re professional earworms.

Look, don’t you even judge me, motherfucker– I listen to them at the gym, okay? And they’re like, great for cardio. It’s not like I love their youthful enthusiasm and energetic optimism… or their sassy-yet-reserved wardrobe, or fabulous dance moves…! or anything…! That’s stupid! Itunes recommended them because it said I liked Lady Gaga and Katy Perry.**

So. There.

And THEN: I had it.

The.

Idea.

What if…??

What if we had the roster of soulless-yet-undeniably-gifted Disney pop song writers work with extreme metal artists? Like Acephalix or Napalm Death or Electric Wizard?

If Disney thought there was money in it, they’d do it in .000005 milliseconds! Demi Lovato (no stranger to extreme metal) and Selena Gomez would be pumping out grindcore and black metal hymns like they were scripted scandals or Bieber babies!

It would be the greatest music– in the world!

It would be, like, The Entertainment in Infinite Jest, or the song the sirens sang at Odysseus! We’d all have it on repeat every day until forever…!

Man…

…this is some strong shit.

*What? She only has one name. Like Cher. Or Madonna.
**Ignore this.

May is Eric Dolphy Month! or: Why Eric Dolphy is The Muse of Choice, or: How, under the right fingers, the Bass Clarinet can transcend mortal experiences

This, from the realm of pure creation: unfettered imagination and its corresponding diction…..

“Out in the waygoneshere, bullet-proof funky,” indeed.  The above image of Dolphy was the old banner image for the previous incarnation of Sawtooth Wave.com– I use his images like Neanderthal man used cave paintings of Gods to summon and invoke  and appease them….

Consider this the intro to a series of pieces collectively being “Eric Dolphy Month” (May 2011), where we’ll listen back at his works, as well as the book Eric Dolphy: A Musical Discography & Discography.

I have this on a T shirt...

Ben Ratliff noted once that Dolphy’s distinct technique (huge intervallic leaps, speech-like phrasing) was, in the end, “not particularly influential.” Perhaps unfortunately very true. Perhaps some fanaticism might jibe that…. Perhaps some sculpted lunacy might inspire/infect others… and adjure them….

It’s hard to state how much I love the way Dolphy plays.  It’s like that natural tendency you’ve discovered about yourself to abuse alcohol/ cocaine/ heroin… whatever drug it is you love(d)…. I wanna keep hearing him and hearing him….

He goes where he wants when he wants. He gets away with it. He exports alien, yet-improbably-human melodies and makes them work with the ear.

Metal heads dig him too….

(more…)

Burzum, Fallen

Hmmm… how to begin this.

Disclosure:

1: Most of my adult life I’ve worked in forensic psychology, in prisons and police departments in six states, specifically with sexual offenders and serial homicide offenders.

2: I dig (though by no means am tr00 or kvlt) black metal; of course I still consider Behemoth black(ish) metal, and love Liturgy, so….

3: Burzum, aka Varg Vikernes, served time in Norwegian prison for murder and arson.

This highlights a sticky area for reviewers: how do you review a piece of (at least alleged) art, knowing the potentially toxic background of the artist?

Do you avoid the Ad Hominem fallacy (“He’s a bad man, so he can never have anything good to say!”) and listen earnestly to what he’s done?

Or do we say Fuck that shit, murdering, church burning bastard.

And it’s deceptively easy, from the safely of reading the monitor, to say “you go, burn that shit!” or something similar.

Now imagine your mother or grandmother being burned alive in a building she found peaceful, or held onto as a symbol, or source of peace.

Regardless of your opinion toward the church and/or Christianity (and the perhaps-inevitable paradoxes inherent therein), there are serious, life-changing repercussions of what Mr. Vikernes was convicted of doing.

The point is, this area gets emotionally tangled very quickly, especially to me; I’m likely to be particularly irritated by the artist’s history and perhaps not enjoy this work as well as someone else might. Be warned, and read on with that in the background of your cerebellum.

So.

If his musical work, despite his background, is good, do we say it’s good? Do we endorse it?

Maybe put more directly– if Hitler gave you the winning lottery numbers, would you play them?

Or would you object to the millions you’d get, from the millions dead?

[Although I’m phrasing this question somewhat rhetorically, I’m obviously working up to a review of the work in question. But: wouldn’t it be hilarious if I just concluded it wasn’t something that should be reviewed at all, and just stopped here? Something like, soup Nazi style: “No review for you!”]

Overall, Fallen sounds like it cost $10 to make; does that make it tr00? Or is it like John Cougar Mellancamp or Joel McHale, spending hours on a haircut, trying to make it look like they spent 10 seconds on it?

If the appearance, at least, of low-budget recording appeals to you, well then… there you go.

Track one, “Jeg Faller”: sounds like my first guitar, a Harmony, played through its accompanying 1.5 inch speaker, with no gain– but somehow does not sound bad…? Like all tracks on Fallen, it’s a mix of ambient, electro-pop (somehow: maybe it’s because of what I’m certain is a drum machine and its stiffness…?), black metal, folk music, acoustic pop… actually, it might be easier to list what musics don’t end up somewhere on here.

“Valen,” like the previous track, follows the songwriting trope of less-melodic verse followed by “catchy” chorus with cleanish vocals. And it pretty much works.

“Vanvidd” continues both the Norwegian lyrics and musical themes: cold, tremolo-picked chords in standard tuning, with murmured lyrics that become hoarse and raspy, replete with blast beats… managing to sound like black metal and ambient relaxation music (seriously) at the same time…. Bonus: at around 3:45 it manages to invoke both Ministry and Joy Division….

“Enhver till Sitt” starts with that same shrill, high-gain non-wound guitar string, bleating a flatted-fifth (sinister) riff…. The remaining tracks “Budstikken” (black metal Pet Shop Boys? Dance floor KMFDM?) and “Til Hel og Tilbake Igjen” (say what you will about the songs themselves, but Norwegian song titles sound metal as shit, don’t they?) are interesting, above average black metal.

So– the overall verdict here is actually quite anticlimactic: Fallen is pretty good.

It’s got good moments, and interesting uses of texture and contrast. It’s not great. It’s not terrible. It’s the germ of something great.

Whether Berzum is past his greatness, or approaching it, is anyone’s guess.

Thelonious Monk = Christopher Walken

Monk’s work is a great way to evaluate artists, whether those who’ve been around forever, or are new; covers, in and of themselves, are great way to compare players (or maybe I’m too German for my own good, looking for something akin to a control group to use in my comparisons), and in my mind Monk’s covers are the best: they’re so idiosyncratic they instantly highlight a player’s central tendencies: how do they interpret a melody line or lack thereof, or a near complete disregard of key signature (e.g., “Monk’s Dream” is ostensibly in F, but there’s so many accidentals they may as well have put Fuck It where the key signature goes).

It’s not unlike comedians doing unusual impressions: everyone and their grandma does (or did, anyway) a Jimmy Stuart, or a Reagan, or a Clinton… and they all sound the same: they sound like Stuart, Reagan and Clinton. Those guys are easy.

Christopher Walken, on the other hand…though he is seemingly easy, isn’t:

He takes strange pauses between words, emphasizes odd, out-of-time syllables… and five seconds hearing any aspiring comedian will (nearly instantly) show you their flaws. (For the record, I like this guy the best.)

Monk’s work, to me, is the Christopher Walken of cover choices. 

So– ten covers of Monk’s work: Vijay Iyer’s and Eric Dolphy’s takes on “Epistrophy,” the Charles Lloyd quartet’s “Ruby, My Dear,” and “Monk’s Mood,” Jason Moran’s “Crepescule With Nellie,” Art Pepper’s, Dexter Gordon’s and Miles Davis’ versions of “Round Midnight,” and two live versions of “Straight, no Chaser” by Miles and company.

Charles Lloyd’s “Ruby My Dear,”– spacious and decadent, yet sparse and minimalist; Lloyd’s re-entry at 3:50 perhaps encapsulating his essence relating to the song– relaxed, considered, yet brisk, with breathy melodic runs over Monk’s “Is he what we’d now call Bipolar disordered or Schizophrenic?” melody….

Lloyd’s version of “Monk’s Mood” continues this… but seemingly more asymmetrically, as if he’s relaxed into it…? Both are seemingly in no hurry to resolve to the tonic (the ultimate test of someone covering Monk– how impatient are you to make the song make sense, i.e., hit the home tone, i.e., sound the notes the ear has heard the most often up to that point….).

Vijay Iyer’s “Epistrophy” is one of the few Monk covers that rivals T. Sphere M. in terms of idiosyncrasy… passionate and straightforward, yet somehow distracted, like a psych ward patient who’s convinced he’s got 99% of the math for cold fusion correct… just can’t get. that. other. one. percent…. The familiar D#/E/C/C# then D#/E/C/F# (transposed for tenor*), seemingly gently handled by Iyer… a great version….

Eric Dolphy, on Last Date, fires up his version of this on bass clarinet: ranting for a second, howling through the clarinet, then wobbling along… you can imagine him glancing at the rhythm section, which comes right in on cue, they then hitting the drippy melody, one not unlike the sonic version of a Dali painting….

Jason Moran’s “Crepuscule with Nellie,” vaguely-Guaraldi-ish-isms, especially at 4:52 with its (appropriately?) instant, jarring, stop, then gentle fade out….

Dexter Gordon and “‘Round Midnight…” he almost stomps in, huffily, at around 0:25, stating the melody so you get it… he then slows down, almost enjoying the melody by 0:49… somehow Dex loves to occasionally squat at (the tenor’s) C, then C#… eventually finding the F to relax you for a second…. Art Pepper’s version begins surprisingly subtly, with a volume swell of a symphony soon entering… truth be told, it’s a bit trite, re-hashing the melody, trading on your nostalgia without adding much… Pepper’s deft, yet nasal tone, bouncing up and down on the melody… not unlike a kid tromping happily and obliviously on an Cézanne (a print though, not the original)….

Miles Davis’ version of “‘Round Midnight” (the studio version, on ‘Round About Midnight), with its off-handed gesture of a melody in F minor– Miles and company trot out the expected melody at its normal 65-ish beats per minute: at 0:54, an irritated high-treble blare from Miles… this version seems “safer,” more delicate, than the below live version….

From the “comeback” performance in Newport in 1955… a hesitant/ gentle start with the melody over Monk’s comping… Miles squatting on (trumpet’s) F for a bit, seemingly hesitant, or afraid… or completely confident and just waiting, spider-like… flicks his fingers up to C, just to remind you “what melody we’re playing, Clyde… try and keep up…” getting more (obviously) confident as the piece rolls on, arpeggiating over the F at around 2:10… applause at around 3:00 for Monk to play over his baby….

“Straight, No Chaser,” Miles and Co., from Milestones…  an uncharacteristically-passionate and rapid opening solo from Miles… good for you, Mr. Davis– what pissed you off that day… what got through that thick hide of yours…? (Until Coltrane, at his most subdued, out-emotes you….)

My favorite cover is Dolphy’s “Epistrophy” (though I like them all or they wouldn’t be here): he seems to be in on the joke. Yes, there seems to be a “joke” (though not one that lessens the impact or importance of Monk’s work) to Monk’s work, and Dolphy seems to get it, and play with it.

Maybe it’s because I don’t quite get it, but I could listen for days.

Bottom line, I guess I could always use more Goddamn cowbell.

*Which makes no goddamn sense, yet somehow works as a melody.