Logic In The Square World

1.

'Music first and last should sound well, should allure and enchant the ear. Never mind the inner significance' - Sir Thomas Beecham, 1978

Getting old and conservative in my musical taste...no more noise, thank you.

Consider applying Vulcan logic to cultural consumption. Perhaps it's a good idea, preventing the purchase of avant-garde works that will provide little pleasure. Then again, as a philosopher once said, to buy an Anthony Braxton album is to be human.

In an episode of Enterprise, the (female) Vulcan berates the captain for being fifteen minutes late. The day before, Jane had done the same thing to me, for the same reason. The captain was exploring a new planet, whilst I was exploring the sale in HMV.

The sale saw the beginning of my current Blue Note fever. Albums at 4.99 are contagious. Bought two Medeski, Martin and Wood albums (Tonic, Combustication), Donald Byrd's A New Perspective, and Hank Mobley's No Room For Squares.

2.

Whilst DJ-ing the other night four people walked out during Kraftwerk's 'Trans Europe Express' - a pretty tasteless thing to do. I tried not to take it personally. Perhaps I should always have Hank Mobley's 'No Room For Squares' on hand for such an occasion, but then, people are walking out of the bar all the time, so that idea isn't feasible.

Another possibility: looping the part from Sly and The Family Stone's 'Dance To The Music' where they shout 'All the squares go home!'.

The square world depresses me.

3.

Another day, another megastore (are they contagious too?), another sale. Buy The Jazz Messengers' The Witch Doctor (welcome back home in CD format after big vinyl sell-off years ago), Hank Mobley's Soul Station, and Donald Byrd's A New Perspective - three for 20.

4.

We watch a Channel Four programme about popular dance trends. Neither of us could believe how dumb it was. So wrong - telling it from the viewpoint of a thirty-year-old idiot. They briefly acknowledge that the dance phenomenon did exist before Saturday Night Fever, but still suggest that it was it the beginning of it all. So the lie is perpetuated.

The lie is that men didn't express themselves on the dancefloor before Travolta. Mods didn't dance, neither did guys on the funk/soul scene, or those into Northern Soul.

Who researches these programmes?

Write the history wrong and present is as fact. Square revisionist shit for the now generation.

5.

Ride the new wave Trojan revival...

Duke Reid first claimed the name. A new release: The Birth Of Trojan - the complete output of his label from '67. Every single and B-side. Love the logic, the totality of the concept. It gives a better impression of Jamaican music of the time than a selective compilation. Some B-sides which are instrumentals in the very old-school schmaltzy waltzy instrumental vein, like 'Never To Be Mine (O Solo Mio)' by Roland Alphonso and The Supersonics. Or 'Starry Night' by Tommy McCook. Echoes of times past when couples danced in ballrooms and boys weren't as rude as they became in the mid-60s.

Equally old-fashioned sounding are 'I Want To Be Loved (I Need You)' by Oliver St Patrick and The Diamonds, and 'This Is A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening' by Phyllis Dillon. Both are ballads in almost doo-wop mode. Phyllis - the rocksteady queen, also showing how reggae-got-soul on 'Make Me Yours' and 'Leave It In The Hands Of Love'. Dobby Dobson's '(I'm A) Loving Pauper' is a song which no home should be without.

Ride on, further back with Jamaican R and B - triple CD box set of jumping jive and balladeering. As Owen Gray says: 'Mash It!'. There ain't nobody here but us chickens, I doubt. The treasure isle under the full influence of the land of the free - the connections are obvious - it's no big leap from RandB to ska.

I wonder, can it be true that Bowie's 'China Girl' was influenced by Lloyd Clarke's 'Japanese Girl'? Title aside, there's definitely a similarity in the 'Oriental' guitar riff.

6.

Phone the painfully trendy Soul Jazz label for details of dates on their latest compilation, Studio One Scorchers. There are none on my promo copy. I explain to Karen. I also explain that I'm writing about it for a web site. She asks me if I've got e-mail. No, I haven't. She takes my address.

She doesn't send the details because, obviously, putting a stamp on an envelope and writing my address on it would be too much trouble. They are Soul Jazz, and they don't bother with such things.

So big up the Hoxton massive and other baggy-arsed types with spiky hair who dabble a bit in 'cool' reggae on Soul Jazz...

Wait, just because I'm old enough to have been around when reggae was essential to the fabric of smart working class culture, rather than trendy retro, I've no reason to criticise.

It's a good compilation, but fuck Soul Jazz.

7.

Find Mr Lif's album, I Phantom, for 3 on promo. Don't buy hip-hop anymore, but what's 3?

Get the album home, play it, and remember why I don't buy hip-hop...

Mr Lif might be talking loud and saying something, but from one play, it's hard to tell. The track that stands out is 'Live From The Plantation', a tale of the torture of dead-end McJob exploitation. He takes on materialism and workaholic neglect on 'Success'. And, of course, there has to be at least one apocalypse now scenario, as on 'Earth Crusher'. This certainly isn't a bad album, but just how good it is I'm unqualified to say.

(Days later I realise that the best way to enjoy I Phantom is to play tracks in isolation, thus avoiding rap overload.)

8.

Pop girl group Atomic Kitten record their version of 'The Tide Is High', taking a cue from Blondie, not even The Paragons' blissful rock steady of 1968. Nothing is sacred. The megastore DJ plays it whilst I'm in there and I have to leave, feeling as if a tiny part of my heart has broken off, been cracked by the act. As Harold Steptoe once said to his dad: 'The kids today, what do they know about music?'.

The current logical progression - is it from Atomic Kitten to a more 'mature' form of the same shit? Focus, look down the years, past my first discovery of Blue Note, beyond Punk, beyond Funk, to reggae and Bowie and even beyond that, to Hendrix and The Stones courtesy of my older brothers. One generation either feeds or poisons another. What will today's Pop kids pass on to their younger siblings? That particular chain reaction will consist of artistic ineptitude, spiritually barren - but will it effect the nature of all involved? Will it breed a more stupid generation?

How does music affect people, and what can we tell from the music someone chooses....what, if anything, does it symbolise?

9.

My own vinyl reckoning, with respect to Mr Meltzer. Yes, Richard, like you, every time I've hit rock-bottom with nothing left to toss I find another item or five to weed out. Or in my case, about twenty items on average because, you know, it's just wouldn't be worth taking five albums to Music and Video Exchange.

It's logical to get rid of stuff that no longer has any value (however value, with regards to music, is assessed). I'm an exception in this case, I realise, since most music-lover I know tend to hang on to their stuff, as if selling music is sacrilegious.

It's time to be ruthless with the axe because I'm still on a mission to - what? - achieve a 'pure' collection?

Deep breath. Check my state of mind to try and ensure against over-enthusiastic rejection (there are always a few babies that go out with the bath water, but I've learnt to live with that and, ultimately, you know what? You never miss an album after it's gone, kids!)

Where to start? The top shelf. Some Rock up there (Hendrix: untouchable, Neil Young: likewise, even though I never play him, but when I do, it's always a pleasure, and Jane loves Harvest Moon).

Move to the far right - Derrick May, Innovator box set - god I hate (vinyl) box sets, they take up so much room. On the bottom shelf there's a complete Mahler symphonies box the size of a suitcase, but it's untouchable because a) I bought it for Jane, b) it's, er, classic, innit? Back to Derrick, play 'Nude Photo' because I remember it as one of my favourites - like the laughter, but how Great is it now? Can I play the 'historical perspective innovatory' card? No, I'm not that interested in it's academic value. How has it aged? Not too badly, but it still sounds...kind of amateurish (oh, sacrilegious to say, Detroit purists, I know). I think this is going. Damn heavy to carry, might need two panniers with this sucker in the bag.

Keep all the Carl Craig...and here's a metal box, yes, the Metal Box - but how often do I play it? Very rarely, but it's such a damn...awkward/nasty/nihilistic thing, and Wobble's bass and Lydon's inhuman/ultra-human shrieks against the Wrongness of things is, well, so right. Keep that (and all the other PIL albums). Company Flow's Little Johnny album? Touch on some tracks - some do nothing, enough are dark and fucked-up enough to be worthwhile. How come no-one else has put out 'hip-hop' instrumentals this good? Maybe they have.

The Cujo albums? Yes, keep them, not just because they remind me of Rumpus Room days and he namechecks me on the back of one of them but because they're good, possibly the best cut'n'paste mad-break jazz records ever made. Interstellar Fugitives - classic Underground Resistance. Metalheadz first comp and Logical Progression? Aaah, the days of drum'n'bass...LG's got some duff tracks but Bukem's 'Horizons', 'Demon's Theme' and 'Music' make it worthwhile. Platinum Breakz still reprezents (hey!), especially Doc Scott's 'The Unofficial Ghost', and look, here's 'Pulp Fiction'! (truly symbolic of great times) - (drift for a minute into dewy-eyed memories...)

David Holmes' album Lets Get Killed? Well, it's got 'Gritty Shaker' and 'My Mate Paul' - both from good clubbing times spent in basements plotting the overthrow of the conservative super club fascist regime. So it never happened, it killed itself (supposedly, now) - you can't say you weren't warned about that particularly evil empire (weren't you reading me/hearing us?).

Goldie's Timeless? Timestretch! Yeah! God, was it really seven years ago? 'Jah The Seventh Seal' still sounds like the real shit...and the bass that comes in on 'A Sense Of Rage' - 'you like hardcore'? I do. Goldie may be a prat (or just a lad made good, if 'good' is doing EastEnders) but once upon a time like then he made an album that sounded like it really was the future of dandb, the promise and, for the most part, the delivery - the sense of adventure - in retrospect, Timeless happens to sound, still, like the best dandb album ever made. Hearing 'Saint Angel' and 'Kemistry' again is still a rush.

Depth Charge, Shadow and Tricky's first are all safe, so are all the Rip Rig and Panic albums, and Portishead's first, plus PE's Yo! Bum Rush The Show (best hip-hop album ever made - that's what I need more of, definitive, indisputable 'Best' records, and 'Best Ofs' too, as in The Best Of Funk Inc and Best Of Marvin Gaye, and Kool and The Gang, and Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes - dontcha just love 'Best Of' albums? There's also Funkadelic Finest, which is all the Funkadelic you really need, although I'm keeping the Maggot Brain album. 'Greatest Hits' are essential too, as in Teddy Pendergrass - Greatest Hits ('I Don't Love You Anymore', 'The More I Get, The More I Want', 'Only You', You Can't Hide From Yourself' - I don't think Teddy P has made better records, and they're amongst my personal favourites in my whole collection. Any more? Yes, The Commodores Greatest Hits ('Brick House', 'Machine Gun', 'I Feel Sanctified', 'Slippery When Wet') - damn! That's a fuckin' collection, even with 'Easy' and 'Zoom' on board. Shit, how did Lionel go from bad muthafucker to housewife's choice? Why, Lionel, why? (Play 'Sanctified' and feel damn good).

I'm not going near my funk/soul section because, funnily enough, I've never been tempted to sell any of it, and that, surely, is confirmation that god made me funky and it's a music that will stay with me forever (grand statement, but probably true).

Move down a shelf to the first section, the dandb singles. I've already pruned these considerably but now I'm in a tough no bullshit mood there might be more. Adam F's 'Circles' - play it and see - no, still sounds great. Plate 1 of a V recordings comp (sold the rest) - kept this because it's got Roni's 'It's Jazzy' on one side, and Krust's 'Maintain' on the other. What would I get for this anyway? Shit! I've just discovered what 'Maintain' is, and can't believe that I'd forgotten this tune (that it ever existed or that I actually owned it) - I mean, I must be going senile. This track was so-o-o HUGE - the two halves, the vocal first leading to that bass, with the digital clank and clang that was Krust's trademark. Krust was king, for a while. Slot this alongside his other epic, 'True Stories' (so epic, I mean, if there's a 'story' to be imagined, it must be something like The Seven Samurai, or maybe Once Upon A Time In Bristol, I mean, America).

Keep the Photek twelves, and the Source Direct, the No U Turns and what little Dark Rave breakbeat I have. So now I'm realising that there isn't enough axing going on here. This is the disappointing part, ironically, to discover that so much of what's here actually deserves to stay because it's still sounds good. Funny that, isn't it? - the result of so many previous weeding out sessions, obviously.

Take a break and, whilst eating cold pasta, confirm to myself what I have suspected for some time - that I can no longer get anything out of 'late' Coltrane. This is a disturbing admission. I used to think that everything He did was automatically god-like, but part of this process is having to face oneself, and this can be a profound experience. Music evaluation as psychiatric session, yes. It's not that I consider his final stage of Outer exploration as worthless, simply that I can't listen to it. This makes me a wimp in the eyes of the True Believers, of course, but do you think I care? All these years of listening...it takes me this long to be able to stand by what I like, and what I don't, regardless of what is supposed to be 'essential', which is all bullshit and denies the personal. I'm jumping the Coltrane ship (Sun Ship, my latest Coltrane, a great album)) around the same time that McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones did - 1965.

I need some sanity so I turn to Art Pepper - Intensity - bliss. Throw out some Terry Riley (having listened, for the first time in ages, to In C. It drove the workmen outside away, at least) and feel better. Look at the Mingus albums and the ones I've got remind me of how great he was. Likewise Ornette and Miles, of course - but don't think I'm above weeding out certain records by all three because I have, in the past. That's how tough I am.

Cecil Taylor (earlier stuff) stays, not just because I think he's beyond the axe, but because he's totally Beyond full stop. Taylor's music is a mystery, one of the great mysteries, therefore actually impossible to 'understand' and, consequently, evaluate in the normal way. Bless 'im. I mean, what can you make of Unit Structures? Ditto Sun Ra, although he was a crazy muthafucker in all directions and, therefore, quite liable to infuriate as thrill. A few years on I might actually be able to determine which of his albums are my favourites, but not just yet. Listening to Ra is, in itself, a cosmic quest of both external (inter-galactic) and internal (fantastic voyage) proportions, don't you think?

CDs? Won't touch the 60s soul, or the reggae (60s and early-70s). I only listen to 'early' reggae now, having long since got rid of the rootsy stuff. Funny, how I'm back to where I started, in one sense, listening to Trojan. Back then though it was only the Trojan hits whereas today's reissue fever enables us all to catch up with the much rarer stuff. So I'm doing the double time-warp, back, and back again, to ska, for instance, which no-one listened to in the 70s (no populist skin'eads that I knew, anyway). The logical progression took me from crossover reggae and finally into all that Rasta business in the mid-70s, then the punky reggae party because, hey, us honky rebels so wanted to relate to our Jamaican brother in shanty town etc. Yes, Joe, I've been the only white man, not in Hammersmith Palais but Aylesbury Civic Centre during a sound system clash. I never want to hear 'Police And Thieves' again, incidentally.

I think I'm done, having bagged a few CDs (some contemporary, some not, some classical, some modern beats). The pannier is full. My racks are emptier, but new stuff will soon replace the unwanted since I always spend money made from music on music. Some of that might even stay for a long time since I'm getting more and more selective with age. That's the art, choosing well. Then again, you never can tell what will fall under the axe next time I sharpen it.

10.

Money in my pocket from the sell-off. Go to Rhythm Records in Camden...

Pick up the reissue of Horace Silver's The Stylings Of Silver. Satisfaction guaranteed - it's logical. Although it's from '57 and my favourite Silver is his 60s work, as I've said before, Horace just makes me happy. They use the same photo on the back as they did for Blowin' The Blues Away, which is Horace hunched over the keys, two thick strands of hair flopped over his forehead (like Cab Calloway when he got excited) - and a beatific smile, like he knows how much joy he's giving to the world.

Still got Blue Note fever - tracking back to repossess gems from the past (my past too) - Kenny Dorham's Trompeta Toccata, Freddie Hubbard's Blue Spirits - re-running of old thrills, which are not the same as first time delight - now different but equally enjoyable. Am I trying to recapture my past? Is that it? Blakey, Pete La Roca, Big Black's congas - the rhythms propelling me forward, and back. Need the reassurance that in one sound universe all is well, more than well - the sartorial sharpness and clarity of recording - the spirit of sophisticated swing.

Apply logic once more and get Miles Davis In Stockholm Complete, a 4-CD affair. Coltrane is with the band in March, replaced by Sonny Stitt for the return in October. From first to last it sounds well, as well as anything can sound to me. Don't know about the inner significance.

© Robin Tomens 2002 2002


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