Monday, November 30, 2015

POS Top Ten: Chris Harry (Toucan Slam)

           Previously we had featured a top ten from Will Conrad Byler (Piles and Piles) and I loved it so much I bugged another of my buddies for one. Though the most important question is why?
           My first touch point with Chris Harry was drumming in a band called Civil (which still owns btw) and now in the excellent two piece Toucan Slam hitting the skins. I asked Chris what made his top o' the heap...

(1) Gong - Camembert Électrique

In 1967, founding member of Soft Machine Daevid Allen was denied re-entry into the UK after a
tour of France. Being at that time more or less completely at the peak of his creative powers (there are stories from that tour of Soft Machine playing 'We Did It Again', which is a 3 minute song off of their debut LP that consists of one perpetually propulsive riff for over 44 minutes at the Bataclan in Paris) he decided to form Gong. The space jazz style they are often associated with is in its primal form here, later albums would have a lot more framework, even an entire mythology about "Planet Gong" along with a main character "Zero the Hero". I prefer it for that very reason, the band is just cutting loose and creating these deep walls of psychedelic noise that hover around every song and structure. Allen approaches song writing with a very playful, almost childlike delicacy amidst the organized chaos unfolding all around him, which for me translates into utmost accessibility. Space jazz is not for everyone I imagine, but Camembert Électrique is a good opportunity to open up some windows to those who may not be able to stomach the more intense avant garde jazz from that era.  Also it was recorded in a castle, which is just awesome.

(2)Ruins - Hyderomastgroningem

Ah, Tatsuya Yoshida, you absolute madman. This album was my introduction to Ruins, and it didn't take very long to convince me. Something about their absolute relentlessness like songs on Speedball, or Memories of Zworrisdeh is just nothing short of legendary. Their pared down drum and bass set up is somehow never lacking or empty, unless they mean it to be. People like to call them Zeuhl, simply because of the frantic pace and complex rhythmic changes that serve as the building blocks for that genre, but also for the fact that Tatsuya composed an entire language to sing his music in (Hint: It's not Kobaïan). Don't be fooled by the veil of insanity: Tatsuya is first and foremost a composer, literally scoring out every single note on paper before ever performing it. If that doesn't impress you, I don't know what will.  

(3)Magma - Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh

Now THIS, this is Zeuhl.   This band literally coined the term. Zeuhl, which is Kobaïan for 'Celestial', is quite possibly the best way to describe it. Drummer and leader Christian Vander is just another language inventing drummer dude who took way too much LSD during the student protests in France in 1968 and writes with an affinity for space mythology on this list. Comparable to Gong in that sense of being its really dark and Nihilistic brother, as well  having shared a member or two in the early 70's. This album employs a very polyrhythmic feel throughout, juxtaposing a 7/4 build up against a straight 4/4 drum pattern, to great effect I might add. This album lends itself to a very dark and almost, John Williams or Gustav Holst brand of compositional fabric. It sounds like the Empire coming down hard on the Rebels. I usually play it on my phone at the bar, sort of like a pickup line. Women fucking love some good Zeuhl.

(4)CAN - Tago Mago

Despite being made in the 70s, this album probably featured more sampling than anything up until DJ Shadow's Endtroducing in 1996. Holger Czukay, the band's bassist and de-facto leader employed tape splicing to great effect on this album, incorporating everything from recordings of various whistles, flutes, drums, filters, etc. (Halleluhwah) to some impressively tasteful tape echo (Aumgn) to absolutely jarring beat machines (Peking O) and even the sound of a nuclear bomb (Mushroom). On top of all that, the band is unbelievably tight considering how much improvisation lies at the core of this album. Jaki Liebezeit, CAN's drummer and resident asshole, keeps better time than the Sun. He sounds like a helicopter at times, others a train engine. The break beats on Mushroom are some of the best you'll ever hear. Just a little forewarning though, this band is not exactly "about" traditional vocals. They literally found their second singer, Damo Suzuki, busking outside of a cafe (Malcolm Mooney, the draft dodging original singer had a mental breakdown on stage in 1969). They then proceeded to invite him, without rehearsal, to play a sold out show at a sports hall that same night. One of the grooviest albums around.

(5)Love - Forever Changes

Arthur Lee used to be the king of the Sunset Strip. Before Los Angeles was Doors town, it was Love town. He's even allegedly responsible for showing Elektra records founder Jac Holzman The Doors in the first place. By the time this album rolled around, the early days of his bands unbridled success were starting to fade, along with the overall health of the bands relationship. Conflicts over  drugs and women, along with addiction and a lack willingness to even perform was taking its toll. All of this contributes to the albums overall sombre tone. Arthur Lee was, for one reason or another, convinced that he was going to die in 1967, and he wrote Forever Changes in that time. His mercurial outlook and little lyrical puzzles are noteworthy, along with the string and horn arrangements, which don't play out the way they often did on other records in those days. Instead of having that 'cut and paste' feel, they tend to be more important sounding when they appear, very cleanly and vitally woven to the songs themselves.

(6) Bert Jansch - Bert Jansch

Having a dark period in your life? This album is the one for you. When it comes to British folk in the 60s, there are three names that stick out to me: Davey Graham, John Renbourn and Bert Jansch. (The last two are also in folk rock band Pentangle, who are absolutely magical) The exasperation in Bert's voice can be as warming as it is haunting. This is the voice of somebody who's spent a lot of time alone, walking around the middle of nowhere with nothing but cigarettes, a few dollars and a guitar. He doesn't slack on the former either, his playing is incredibly elastic and appropriately tailored to suit every lyric or chord progression. He tears it up on songs like Angie and brings you through some darker sides of himself on Alice's Wonderland and Veronica. For fans of Big Bill Broonzy.

(7)Idiot Flesh - Fancy

This album is very difficult to describe in terms of genre, it is very influenced by 20th century classical music and avant garde traditions, but at the same time retains a hardcore edge found on a lot of straight ahead metal or rock. Nils Frykdahl is one hell of a composer, he can turn absolutely anything into a song. This band was pretty famous for its elaborate stage presence as well as making their own instruments. Nils went on to form the legendary Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, who have permanently set the freak flag so high up the pole that Captain Beefheart standing on the shoulders of Wild Man Fischer atop of a ladder secured by The Shaggs couldn't even reach it. Huge wafts of Zappa here, if you pay close enough attention. Not necessarily in the arrangements themselves, but the attitude and way they fuse different styles together into something very new and different. Not for the faint of heart, these guys can bring you to some pretty dank places, if you let them.

(8)Meat Beat Manifesto - At The Center

It's my opinion that Jack Dangers is one of the best producers ever to be offered up by our species. He's been at the helm of electronic dance music before there even was one, the elder statesmen if you will. As a drummer, this album is particularly enticing as it features Dave King of The Bad Plus on almost every track, along with pianist Craig Taborn and flutist Peter Gordon. The majority of this record is just psychedelic uncut studio jams (. Two songs are soundscapes built around old recordings of beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti reading want ads in the 1950s, these are some very beautiful pieces of work. Jack's knowledge of recorded sound and film, along with just talent overall, is far too vast to even begin to extrapolate here. He's playing the friggin bass clarinet, sampling everything from just about every source imaginable, mixing a well as mastering. Needless to say, he's that type of creative catalyst that is so dedicated to his craft that nobody hears about him. We wouldn't have Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy or The Future Sound of London, along with a lot of others were it not for this guy.

(9)Steve Lehman - Dialect Fluorescent

Steve Lehman is that hot new thing in experimental jazz, the rising star of the last few years. He's worked with Anthony Braxton, Vijay Iyer, and Jackie Maclean. You name it, he's done it. This album catches him in trio format, which lends itself to the swift and booming nature of the album. You can actually sort of, you know...keep up with what's happening, for the most part. The drumming and bass playing in this album can only be described as post mortal, the level of interplay between Matt Brewer and Damion Reid escapes definition, both literally and musically, as they bounce back and forth on the beat. "Mr. E" is a particularly hard swing/bop, a relentless one at that. "Foster Brothers" is one of the more straightforward songs on the album, having a very pronounced beat, regardless of how intensely Damion flies over it (That song was previously featured on Lehman's octet album with Rudresh Mahanthappa, so it's nice to be able to hear it in core form). The crown jewel here though, is the cover of 'Pure Imagination' from the Willy Wonka soundtrack. I know, right? Don't expect to be hearing any chords on this album. Thoroughly post modern jazz at its finest.

(10)Fela Kuti and Africa 70 with Ginger Baker - Live!

Yeah, I watched that documentary on Netflix. The one where Ginger Baker is smashing his cane in the director's face within the first 5 minute of the film. I'm fine with it too, it brought me this absolutely amazing piece of work I would never have imagined even existed otherwise. For those who don't know, Ginger Baker left randomly for Nigeria in 1970 after the collapse of Blind Faith. He set up the first 16 track studio that country ever had, but most ultimately, teamed up with Fela Kuti for some live performances. If you like Cream and you think Jimi Hendrix is the most influential guitarist of all time, chances are you won't be super fond of Ginger's drumming on this album. There isn't a whole lot of flash, mostly because that's not what this music requires. He just simply holds everything together and still manages to do it with a lot of panache. A great shag record, if you know what I mean. Literally oozing with rhythm and so goddamn groovy, I was absolutely stunned when I heard this last summer, and it continues to be very high on my list of favorites.

Another fine installment for sure and some incredibly intense picks. Stay tuned for more of these two come as well. Again, check out Chris in the very excellent Toucan Slam. They dropped a new burner in August that is more than worth a look see. 

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