Surprise, Surprise / Confounding Expectations
Recent Listening, May 2003

I've recently discovered the joys of weeding. No, I haven't become a closet gardener or got green fingers, I've joined some groups on the web who weed CDs. Weeding means you get sent a copy of a CD and you make three copies for other people. The amazing thing is that the internet groups I'm in [mainly concerned with bands outside the scope of Tangents, bands which make the editor moan if I mention them] painstakingly restore and treat live or outtakes recordings and then give them away! Suddenly ú20 or ú30 CDs which I used to look at record fairs are available for free, or 3 blank CDs and some stamps, anyway.

But apart from endless CDs of Genesis, Pink Floyd, yes and a six-CD set of Van de Graaf Generator [sorry Alistair] piled high around the study, there is some more recent music I'd like to bring to your attention.

I've never been a big fan of Blur [actually I'm not a big fan of Blur now and was never a fan in the past at all] until 13 came out and I got hooked. Think Tank is even better, a kind of ramshackle, loose set of grooves which just about hang together as songs. That isn't a criticism, the work is edgy and raw, almost primitive, and has moments of utter beauty and angst in equal measure. I'm reminded of late Primal Scream, or even some of the krautrock bands, there's that sense of songs being built rather than composed.

Of course most of the krautrock bands are now long gone, and half the ones in existence or calling themselves krautrock seem to me to be unlistenable and unwanted heavy metal psychedelic bands, whose only krautrock connection is stealing titles or riffs. But Faust are still going strong, and the land of ukko&rauni is a great new live double CD recorded in Helsinki . This is definitely music being built not composed - and sometimes destroyed; more noise and improvisation than song, it's a great textural and rhythmic assault for those feeling brave. It's on the Ektro label, who you can find on the web. I got my copy by sending a 20 dollar bill over! But it was worth the risk/effort.

As was ordering the latest Sun Ra reissue from the States. It's After the End of World is not too dissimilar from the Faust, though among the noise and improvisation there are the obligatory space chants and Egyptian marches, plus a beautiful set of duos to end the CD. This is the Arkestra in 1970, blowing at full strength: ´Myth Versus Reality' was never a more apt title. Sun Ra always confounded and amused as he dodged between big band covers, noise freakouts and long chanted song cycles and outer-space grooves. This one is definitely one of the weird ones.

As is Keith Jarrett's Always Let Me Go on ECM. I mainly know Jarrett for quiet solo improvisations, which sometimes get too sickly sweet and romantic, and often go on for far too long. There have also been some energetic small groups, and a long time ago he contributed to some of Miles Davis' greatest output. This one is a trio recording, with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, and is a superb double set of live improvisations. The music is surprisingly rumbustuous and energetic; it won't compete with Faust for ´noise' but in its own way its just as noisy and got a great groove. Jarrett is on top form throughout, as are the drummer and bassist; the opening half-hour track is especially good, with never a dull moment.

Someone else who confounds expectations is David Sylvian. A bit of a revisionist and perfectionist when it comes to his own work, he nevertheless continues to intrigue and interest me. [He's recently started up his own label and is about to release a new solo CD on it.] I saw him live with Robert Fripp a few years back, but have never managed to see him solo. Browsing on e-bay I came across some live CDs at a very reasonable price [the seller is a regular presence there; if you search for Sylvian live and then click ´see all sellers other items' once you're in an item you'll get his whole list] and decided to chance my arm, choosing the best looking show from a couple of tours. Slow Fire was recorded in Toronto 1995 and is a good quality recording of what seems to mainly be an acoustic evening. Everything and Nothing, Nottingham 2001 is a slightly muddy band recording of a more recent tour. Together the two make a good contrast. I also gave in to my nostalgia and bought a copy of Japan's last ever gig, which is stonking. Without the distraction of powder-blue and pink suits or the caked make-up, and with the addition of some noisy electric guitar from one of their guests, this was a band to reckon with. One can clearly see where Sylvian was going in the music here, and it's been an enjoyable aural wallow rediscovering that.

© 2003 Rupert Loydell 2003