Herbie Hancock live!

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Whenever my music listening gets on the jazz train, as it has been for the past week or so, I find myself gravitating to the Kozmigroov Konnection to see what albums I may still be missing. “Kozmigroov” is one of those descriptive terms that sounds awkward but is nevertheless useful for framing an idiom that would otherwise go undefined: “a transgressive improvisational music which combines elements of psychedelia, spirituality, jazz, rock, soul, funk, and African, Latin, Brazilian, Indian and Asian influences culminating [in] an all encompassing cosmic groove. At its most accomplished, Kozmigroov is both expansive and highly rhythmic, and simultaneously finds connections with the mind, soul and body.” (more)

If you like this kind of thing then the Kozmigroov Konnection is an essential guide, especially when you’re faced with discographies by artists you know only from their contributions to releases by bigger names. Herbie Hancock isn’t exactly an unknown quantity but I hadn’t noticed before that his Kozmigroov listing features a number of live recordings that I was sure I hadn’t heard. Could they be found anywhere? The answer is obviously yes, thanks to the trove of live recordings archived at Never Enough Rhodes. The post there is an old one but the links for all the Herbie Hancock recordings were updated a few years ago, and all the ones from the essential years up to 1979 are still active. Not only are they active but there are far more concerts from the Mwandishi/Head Hunters era than I ever expected to find in one place. And many of these are from FM radio broadcasts so they don’t suffer from the cassette-recorder-under-the-seat syndrome that spoils so many rock bootlegs from the 1970s and 80s. Amazing.

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Sleeve art by Nobuyuki Nakanishi for one of the few official live albums from Hancock’s Head Hunters period (but only in Japan until it was reissued a few years ago). I love everything about this cover: the Cosmic Coelacanth, Mr. Hancock’s NASA helmet, the Stop typeface, the waterspout nod to Mati Klarwein’s cover for Bitches Brew… Earth, air, fire and water.

The performances range from extended extrapolations of album compositions—a 43-minute version of Hornets (Boston Jazz Workshop, 1973) featuring a lot of synth freakery from Patrick Gleeson; a 57-minute performance of Sleeping Giant (Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, Detroit, 1972)—to later concerts that capture the post Head Hunters group playing to wildly enthusiastic audiences. The thumping version of Palm Grease that opens the Kansas City show makes the studio version sound very restrained. The only disappointment is a rather noisy recording of the FM session from the Ultra-Sonic Recording Studio, a Long Island venue that in the early 1970s hosted many studio appearances by rock, blues and jazz artists. An Ultra-Sonic session by Dr John from 1973 has circulated for years in exceptional quality so I was hoping the Hancock set might sound as good. This is a minor quibble, however, the recording is still decent enough, and the performances are fantastic.

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Musikladen, 1974.

The only concert on the list that I had heard before is an audio rip from a 1974 appearance by the Hancock ensemble on Musikladen, a German TV series. I linked to a copy of this in one of the weekend posts years ago but nothing lasts on YouTube so the link is now defunct. There is another copy here, however. For the time being… The person who was running Never Enough Rhodes complained about having to keep reposting concerts when file hosting services were shut down. Always download things of interest, you never know how long they may be available.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Miles and Miles

Gioconda of the Mausoleum

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“MAGIC REALISM • Like the video technique of “keying in” where any background may be electronically inserted or deleted independently of foreground, the ability to bring the actual sound of musics of various epochs and geographical origins all together in the same compositional frame marks a unique point in history. • A trumpet, branched into a chorus of trumpets by computer, traces the motifs of the Indian raga DARBARI over Senegalese drumming recorded in Paris and a background mosaic of frozen moments from an exotic Hollywood orchestration of the 1950’s [a sonic texture like a “Mona Lisa” which, in close up, reveals itself to be made up of tiny reproductions of the Taj Mahal], while the ancient call of an AKA pygmy voice in the Central African Rainforest—transposed to move in sequences of chords unheard of until the 20th century—rises and falls among gamelan-like cascades, multiplications of a single “digital snapshot” of a traditional instrument played on the Indonesian island of JAVA, on the other side of the world.” — Jon Hassell

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Jon Hassell’s text is part of the sleeve note for his Aka—Darbari—Java (Magic Realism) album which was released on Editions EG in 1983. The description of a picture of the Mona Lisa made from tiny reproductions of the Taj Mahal always intrigued me even though it’s only a shorthand metaphor for the sampling process, as well as being an encapsulation in miniature of one aspect of Hassell”s “Fourth World” concept: the blending of East and West, the sacred and the profane. Nevertheless, 20 years ago—17th May, 2001, according to the date on the file—after realising that Photoshop allowed the creation of just this kind of mosaic imagery, I decided to try and bring Hassell’s metaphor to digital life.

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The end result in its full-size version looks at a distance like an ordinary halftone rendering of the painting but it really is made of tiny images of the Taj Mahal, albeit very rough ones since the process always resulted in a bitmap image. So much time has elapsed I’ve forgotten the procedural details although I do recall the involvement of one of those legacy features of Photoshop that most people ignore, possibly the Apply Image function. And I only did this at all because I’d found a tutorial somewhere that described how to create a mosaic image in this manner. The resulting picture wasn’t particularly satisfying but as a proof of concept it did at least work.

Continue reading “Gioconda of the Mausoleum”

Weekend links 567

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Cover art by Roger Dean for Woyaya (1971), the second album by Osibisa. Dean’s flying elephants made their first appearance on the group’s debut album, and have been an Osibisa emblem ever since.

• Many of Roger Dean’s early album covers are better creations than the music on the albums they decorate. This isn’t the case with Osibisa, however, a Ghanaian group based in London whose discography includes (uniquely, I think) two covers by Dean together with one by Mati Klarwein. The group’s first two albums, Osibisa and Woyaya, are exceptional blends of Ghanaian music with rock, funk and jazz whose omission from the generally reliable Kozmigroov list is a serious error. Garth Cartwright talked to Teddy Osei and Lord Eric Sugumugu about Osibisa past and present.

• “The antiheroes of Angry Young Men cinema railed against the limited life opportunities available to them. Wired and frustrated, they especially chafed against girlfriends, wives, domesticity. Yet they never questioned heterosexuality itself. Not, at least, until The Leather Boys (1964), a relatively little-known film directed by Canadian expatriate Sidney J. Furie.” Sukhdev Sandhu on a film about gay life in pre-decriminalisation Britain that offered a slightly more positive view of its subject than the justifiably angst-ridden Victim (1961).

• “Brian Aldiss once confided to me that the big problem with American science fiction writers was that they loved to write about Mars but knew nothing about Indonesia.” Bruce Sterling on the attractions of being an expatriate writer who adopts a foreign persona, as he did for the stories collected in Robot Artists and Black Swans.

• New music: Fire Tower by The Grid / Fripp. Dave Ball, Richard Norris and Robert Fripp have been collaborating on and off since The Grid’s 456 album in 1992. Fire Tower is a preview of Leviathan, a new album out in June on CD/DVD and double vinyl.

• RIP Michael Collins, the astronaut who orbited the Moon alone, listening to Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz in the Command Module of Apollo 11 while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were walking on the satellite’s surface.

• “‘Walking with a thesis’ could easily function as the subtitle for a significant number of Iain Sinclair’s books.” Tobias Carroll on Iain Sinclair and the radical act of walking through a city.

• “‘Plain speaking, like plain food, is a puritan virtue and thus no virtue at all,’ Meades pronounces.” Steven Poole reviews Pedro and Ricky Come Again by Jonathan Meades.

• Building a panorama: Clive Hicks-Jenkins‘ latest progress report on his Cocteau-inspired illustrated edition of Beauty and the Beast.

• At Unquiet Things: Groovy Goddesses From Dimension X: Gene Szafrans’ Kaleidoscopic Book Covers.

• From leather boys to leather men: Miss Rosen on the little-known photography of Tom of Finland.

Alexis Petridis attempts the impossible again, with a list of Grace Jones’ best songs.

• At Dennis Cooper‘s: Cars.

I’m A Leather Boy (1967) by The Leather Boy | Warm Leatherette (1980) by Grace Jones | Leather Bound (2017) by Patrick Cowley

Beksinski at Mnémos

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More book covers. Mnémos is a French publisher of horror, fantasy and science fiction some of whose recent titles have their covers filled with paintings by the great Polish artist Zdzislaw Beksinski. The pairings of book and picture aren’t always ideal but I appreciate the impulse to choose art from other sources than genre artists. Omni magazine adopted a similar approach in its early issues, matching stories and science features with paintings by artists who are often grouped together as Fantastic Realists: Mati Klarwein, Ernst Fuchs, HR Giger, Bob Venosa, De Es Schwertberger and others. Beksinski’s work was less visible in the late 1970s than that of his contemporaries but one of his (always untitled) paintings did appear in a 1993 issue of the magazine.

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Of the Mnémos covers the one for the collection of Averoigne stories by Clark Ashton Smith is the most immediately fitting, Averoigne being an invented region of France that suits a painting of a Gothic cathedral turned fibrous and fungal. The painting for Zothique, on the other hand, could easily be used for HP Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, while the dog-like creature on the cover of the Frank Belknap Long collection is nothing like the author’s trans-dimensional hounds. Mnémos have given Lovecraft his own Beksinski covers in a seven-volume collection of translated fiction, Lovecraft, l’intégrale prestige, but there doesn’t seem to be a page anywhere that shows the individual books.

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What the artist would have made of all this attention may be gauged by comments like this one from The Fantastic Art of Beksinski (1998): “Meaning is meaningless to me. I do not care for symbolism, and I paint what I paint without meditating on a story.”

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For more about the anti-symbolist, see The Cursed Paintings of Zdzislaw Beksinski by Marek Kepa. (As before, my apology to Polish readers for the unaccented names. The blog coding only works with a limited range of accents.)

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The book covers archive
The fantastic art archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Cosmic music and cosmic horror

Weekend links 416

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Cover art and design by Arien Vallzadeh, Dan Kuehn, Mati Klarwein & Taska Cleveland.

• At Bandcamp: “Jon Hassell collages the past on his absorbing new record”. The new album, Listening to Pictures (Pentimento Volume One), was released last week, and it joins the rest of Hassell’s catalogue in sounding unlike any of his other albums while still being recognisably the work of the same artist. Musical collage is a familiar technique today but was much less common thirty years ago; it’s almost a constant in Hassell’s work, however, going back to Possible Musics (1980), with its tape-looped rhythms and layered recordings, to the later Magic Realism (1983), an album which was in the vanguard of digital sampling, and which still sounds like nothing else.

• “We’re supposedly in the middle of a vinyl revival, streaming services are hoovering up all the coin, and everyone seems to have a cassette column. But, argues James Toth, it’s the humble compact disc that we should be celebrating.” No argument here, I’ve long favoured CDs over vinyl even before the current fad for overpriced antique (or not-so-antique) discs and equally overpriced new pressings.

• “Reading [Robert] Aickman’s strange stories is to glimpse a reality you would prefer to forget,” says John Gray. Among the other writers mentioned in Gray’s piece is the excellent (and under-recognised) Walter de la Mare; Wormwoodiana’s Mark Valentine reviews a previously unseen de la Mare story.

• At The Wire: Greetings Music Lover: The premiere of Steve Urquhart’s new audio documentary exploring the life and work of BBC Radio Lancashire broadcaster and Wire contributor Steve Barker.

• Out in November: k-punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher (2004–2016).

• “European cinema embraces the vagina—what’s taken Hollywood so long?” asks Anne Billson.

Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded by Jason Heller.

• “Avoid all systems”: Ex-Can vocalist Damo Suzuki is interviewed at Dangerous Minds.

• “A new room in the Great Pyramid”: lost 1963 John Coltrane album discovered.

• Mixes of the week: FACT mix 656 by Mor Elian, and 6 by The Ephemeral Man.

• An introduction by Erik Davis to The Night Land by William Hope Hodgson.

Pyramid Of The Sun (1960) by Les Baxter | The Giant Pyramid Sitting At The Bottom Of The Sea Of Bermuda And The Ancient People (1979) by Isao Tomita | The Obsidian Pyramid (2005) by Eric Zann