The Freelance Mentalists.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
  Speculations,Notes on Three Songs of the Year (07)
SPECULATIONS, NOTES ON THREE SONGS OF THE YEAR (07)

Robert Wyatt's "Cancion de Julieta": built on, travels on an upright
bass riff, which carefully adjusts itself, then tilts forward, like a
rocking horse that almost gets stuck on a surreal extention of a bent
(fifth?) some blues note or I should say blu-u-ues note, groaning a
little, deliberately distended, before the last note, before
therocking horse pilgrim tilts back into place. And Wyatt sings the
same melisma, much higher, like a little old man with a hole in his
head and the air pushing out and in, which is true of course, like a
little old man in a poem or a play, under the radar or trying to be
that way, in his mask (from Comicopera, and Wyatt explains he means
that album's title in the oldest school sense, the other side of
tragedy, but useful, a working piece of uniform), his parody, with the
well-timed well-pulled tear in his blues, giving just enough pause to
the listener (and even a sympathetic listener can stop listening if
the music seems too familiar, like this track never does; I keep
listening to hear what happens next, even though I "basically" or
schematically know, but it's the feeling of the listening experience
that matters here, like it always should). Also, it's not just a mask
etc in the defensive sense, or defensive in the wait for 'em to come
at you sense; the little old rocking horse rider isn't just finding
away to keep his place, he's somehow pushing forward, each repetition
of the basic riff brings some other sounds too, which suggest he's
breaking into something, pushing forward, into wreckage, the hull of a
galleon maybe (kind of an underwater moonlit quality). The bass player
is also using his bow, and overdubbing violins, scrabbling at the
push, in the push. (Wyatt also plays some kind of keyboard,
percussion, pocket trumpet, all in the arc and pull and push of the
sway of the note). "Un mar de sue-eh-eh, no. Un mar de tierra blanca,"
so not just aquatic and doesn't just sound aquatic, but like he's
entering the water, rocking back and forth and farward. Just another
sleepwalker? They can do a lot. Leading where all listeners might be
led toward making their own connections, if they want, to any possible
deeper waters. Either way, the song will keep going (not too earnest,
no time for that). It's just the damndest track, is all, first listen
every listen.
Sort of with the same effect is Ultra Living's version of Ornette
Coleman's "Skies of America." Composed for symphony orchestra, here
it's transcribed in 6/8 for three-part harmonies of guitars, then
saxes; bass and drums come to lead the way, eventually, maybe always.
Nothing like any Prime Time track I've heard, although to play
Ornette's themes you have to use his pitches, so to that extent sounds
like him, but the guitars are fuller, more detailed in texture than
Prime Time, and more single-minded than Blood Ulmer's playing with
Ornette, but they do have some of Blood's rattling, once they stick
it in. The saxes have a hard-won fatalism that gets dirgey at one
point, but keeps building poise without letting go of any blues, or
going bravura on us (well not too much). Not just about paying those
dues and maintaining your gnarly cool though, because the bass and
drums, like the opening guitars, are gouging steps in the side of
something, a ravine, judging by the size and shape of echo.
Engagement, and roughness and enlightment and skills chopping
roughness, finding its own way forward, like Wyatt's song. (This one
is from an Anthology Recordings reissue of Ultra Living's
Transgression, first released in 2000.)
Zigmat's "Turn Out," from their self-titled, self-released debut,
also finds its own way forward, maybe toward the edge or center or far
wall of another ravine. Female vocalist and new wave combo, but they
seem to have learned what Blondie once knew from 70s crossroad of
arena (call it metal emphasis, more than rhetoric) punk, disco and
pre-disco girl drama—not "diva," she sounds plainer than that, not
"girl group," not much overdubbed harmonies, she's alone. She's
blurting out her story, and I find it hard to keep up, but got some
sense of it the first time that keeps me going with her, trying to put
together something that's way too clear to her: starts out muttering
about "couture," a chance to work, "a glimpse, a spark," she sounds
avaricious for, "Another chance to start, another mistake," but at
least another, not just one more of the same. But the work she's got
"cut cut cut cut turn it out, you know I wish I was cured, I wish I
was cured! (Turn on turn on turn out.) You make me feel assured. (Turn
on turn on turn out.)" Sounds like she's reading directions aloud on
the paren parts, in contrast to louder, earnest, desperate phrases.
"Assured," as pronounced here, is an implied play on "asheared," as in
"cut," asssheared," she's a sheep for a pimp who's assuring her and
turning her out like she turns out the couture? Is she whoring for the
clothes? But she also is distressed that his parents and sibs are
alarmed by her, and she speaks at times like he's her meat, or her
salvation, or both, another drug.The accent figures in too (class, and
musical associations, with Miami Freestyle as well as the above, so
enough diva for that, skills-wise) Sort of A Place In The Sun, and
she's Latina cross-projection of poor-boy, disorientingly elevated
Cinderfella Montgomery Clift, and his problematic factory girl? (For
some out-of-his-depth/put-upon preppy pimp who's also running the
family garment business?) She seems way more trouble than that,
because maybe dangerous only to herself, or maybe not. But something's
got to give, like something's got to get. These are songs in flight,
but finding, gathering their own measures of resolution, of
confrontation, while so much music runs in place, bumping against the
padding of pattern mining, in performance and listening: I know you
rider, just get along now. These songs won't settle for that, and
won't let me wave them by either. Their game is "CATCH!"
Don Allred

 
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