Jaco Pastorius

 

 

Anthology, the Warner Bros Years

The legendary Jaco Pastorius forever changed the way the bass guitar is played and viewed. Anthology, the Warner Bros Years, explores the influential legacy of this musical revolutionary over a two-disc compilation, focusing on his recordings from 1980-82.

Most of the set’s 22 songs were selected from three previously released Warner Bros. albums: Word of Mouth, a 1981 studio release that stands as the fretless-bassist’s magnum opus; The Birthday Concert, a live big band set recorded in 1981 on his 30th birthday and Invitation, which was recorded during a 1982 tour of Japan with the Word of Mouth Big Band.

In addition, the set also includes an unreleased recording from 1981 of Pastorius performing Charlie Parker’s bebop anthem Donna Lee.

In the collection’s liner notes, Jaco biographer Bill Milkowski writes: “Through his brilliant innovations…Pastorius liberated his instrument from its traditional role in the background and re-imagined it as a potent solo axe and orchestral tool.”

His influence still resonates today on modern bass players like Level 42’s Mark Roberts and Metallica’s Robert Trujillo, a lifelong fan who, incidentally, is producing Jaco, a documentary about Pastorius that’s due out in November.

Anthology finds Pastorious pushing the boundaries of what the bass, and jazz, could be with tracks like Crisis, Word of Mouth, Chromatic Fantasy, John and Mary, and a beautifully orchestrated version of the waltz-time ballad Three Views of a Secret. The live performances featured on the set mix selections from The Birthday Concert (Punk Jazz, Reza and Liberty City) and Invitation (Sophisticated Lady and Fannie Mae).

Also included is a recording of Okonkole’ Y Trompa that was originally available on the Japan-only release Twins I & II.

The set also spotlights Jaco’s performances on other artists’ albums with Nativity, from Brazilian percussionist-vocalist Airto Moreira’s I’m Fine, How Are You?  and Upside Downside, the title track from Mike Stern’s 1986 album.

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Lynn Barber

 

A Curious Career

Not too long before its demise, I had a summer internship in The Irish Press, during which I spent the best part of the day, when not looking at the Liffey through cigarette smoke, observing idiosyncratic masters of journalism, at a time when it was considered a craft, and young reporters were taught first and foremost how to write.

A news report was, from the outset, a composition of words, not one too many nor one too few, in which facts were held to be sacred, though The Irish Press, lamentably, because of its political affiliations, turned a blind eye to the worst excesses of Fianna Fail in government, even during the GUBU era, when Charles Haughey was the gift which kept giving.

The Press did, however, have fine writers, often as different as chalk and cheese: John O’Shea would dash into the office, dial John McEnroe, get a quote, and a story for the back page of the noon edition was done and dusted within half an hour. It was that quick because O’Shea was that good, and then he disappeared.

On the other hand, his fellow scribe from Kerry, Con Houlinan, laboured over a column called Tributaries, in which the names of Mick O’Connell and Baudelaire might share the same line. Houlihan took his time, unfolding his ideas in barely legible longhand onto a long ream of paper normally tucked into a typewriter, in the quietude at the end of the room, away from the cacophony of phones ringing and typewriters.

In many ways journalism, because of its association with penury and alcoholism -surprising bedfellows – was a curious career to embark upon, hence the title of the great Lynn Barber’s book, for she too, in my memory, was and is synonymous with the frankness of reporting back then, when some of the best stylists in English were journalists, and they were not afraid to live a little.

The cover of A Curious Career is brilliantly apolitical: barely managing a smile in a news room, a sardonic Barber has a deliciously erect cigarette in one hand, sitting at a desk with her typewriter: they clacked but kept time with your thinking, which is why they were so much better than computers.

I can’t be sure if the photograph coincides with when she was known as the demon Barber of Fleet Street, but as an interviewer she was without equal, unfazed by celebrity, eternally curious by the lives of others, forensically incisive, and capable, in a sentence or two of reducing an inflated ego to size. I can wince at her demolition of Richard Harris, or Robert Redford.

A Curious Career is part memoir and part remembrance of things past: I had made the mistake in believing that her great interviews were with the most acerbating (Marianne Faithful, Martin Clunes), but I was wrong: they were certainly incendiary, but Barber is equally compelling with people she admires: Tracey Emin, Shane MacGowan and Christopher Hitchens. Anyone hungry for journalism when it was still a craft will read A Curious Career in one sitting, and be the better for it.

Ali Farka Toure

Mali All Stars:

Although Mali All Stars is a two CD, one DVD (in French) package, you would most likely need four times the content to fully appreciate the diversity and range of music coming out of the Western African country.

However, if the object of Mali All Stars is to whet the appetite, it more than succeeds, specifically with the first CD, tracks ranging in quality from the good to the sublime, from a fraternity of the known (Ali Farka Toure) and – to me at least – the less known, (Bako Dagnon and Nampe Sadio).

At the core of the recording is Studio Bogolan, the Abbey Road of Bamako, where some of the most distinctive contemporary Malian music has been recorded in the past 15 years, specifically since it was sponsored by the late Ali Farka Toure.

The cultural renaissance in Bamako, known in Africa as the capital of sound and vision, the thinking connoisseur ‘s Motown, without the gloss, has made it a Mecca for musicians throughout the world. The good, Damon Albarn, Robert Plant and Keziah Jones, and the debatable, Bjork, who, despite the input of the twenty plus strings of Toumani Diabate’s kora , still sounds like Bjork.

Because contemporary Malian music in its natural state is so addictive, I found the second CD, Mali Around the World, too variegated for my taste. It was easy listening without bite, like listening to the Chieftains and the Rolling Stones murdering The Rocky Road to Dublin: Malian music is so densely rich and unique that it doesn’t require any embellishment from outside .

A minor quibble, however. The 14 artists on the CD who sieve Malian tradition, and reinvent the music within a traditional frame, so that regional styles and the virtues of  indigenous acoustic instruments ( Bassekou Kouyate and the ngoni, Toumani Diabate’s kora) coalesce with jazz and blues roots, produce a bountiful spate of sound throughout Mali All Stars.

There is an addictive gene within Malian music at play in Mali All Stars – a fusion of many styles and traditions – which begets an instantly likeable rhythm from the off with Oumou Sangare’s Seya, and courses throughout, from the past (the griot tradition of Bako Dagon) to the future, Vieux Farka Toure’s Sarama. If I could bring just one to a desert island, Toumani Diabate’s Kaira would be a no contest.

They often elude mention in reviews, but the liner notes are extensive and informative, which makes Mali All Stars the go to introduction to contemporary Malian music.

Louise De Paor

 

The Brindled Cat and the Nightingale’s Tongue

The poetry of Louis De Paor is devoid of artifice, of any semantic trickery, which means that it is both pleasant to speak and to read. Take the first stanza of one of the longest poems in this voluminous bilingual collection, Foreign Affairs.

 Seventeen minutes

To seven

In the departure lounge

At Shannon Airport.

De Paor begins like a seanachai recalling a story that has been handed down. The rhythm is instantly urgent, comparable to ‘to begin at the beginning’, or ‘once under a time,’ both from Dylan Thomas, or Lorca’s ‘At five in the afternoon.’

Time acts like a primer for the story to follow, and in this instance the alliteration adds a sense of urgency.

His poems set scenes like fairy tales: On the holy streets/of the City of the Tribes (from O’Donoghue’s Welcome), A January afternoon/ as the northern hemisphere /turned on its heel (from The first day ever) or, from Gaol Cross, It was threatening rain all morning/the day my father left his father’s house.

Props aligned, all that is left is for the poet to chose his rhythm, and let fly. Listen to the sonority of the alliteration in the first, tightly parsed opening to The next time: every summer since then/the scented candles/of sorrow/light/the loneliness/of his house. The poet hasn’t exhausted his style, and continues: since the priest/placed his share/of the weight/of the world/ on his narrow shoulders/small words/seven times as heavy/as the County Hall.

As you may have by now surmised, De Paor is an Irish poet, rooted in the Irish language, the Irish landscape, the Irish tradition masticating speech and verbal gestures to, in essence, tell a story. De Paor is both bard and fili, and to know the difference between the two it helps to be Irish: the latter is etymologically connected to voyeur.

The poems in this collection, and I have heard De Paor perform his work, enter the stratosphere when spoken aloud, as if this is the best way to hand them on, like the indigenous oral Irish tradition.

She is full of love

As a milkjug, filled

To the lip and above

Spilling sea

On parched sand (from Daughter)

My understanding of the Irish sources of these poems is insufficient to comment on De Paor’s achievement of dexterity in translation, but the English versions more than stand on their own two feet.

Barbara Enrenreich

Living With a Wild God

The world is awash with polemicists, but few as good with the pen as Enrenreich, capable of distilling the essence of someone with a walk-on role in Living With a Wild God, with the additional sub-head of A Non-Believer’s Search for the Truth About Everything, and, it appears to me, incapable of writing a dull line.

“We will get back to my father soon enough,” she writes, “that great man-god and Shiva-like genius of self destruction.” Montana and her home town of Butte are far from the rural idyll portrayed in Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It. Explains Enrenreich: “Butte ..a cluster of multi story brick buildings, mostly empty now, and long-dead mining rigs jutting out from a mountainside like a quartz crystal sprouting out of a sheer rock face.”

Much later in the book, as Enrenreich is to learn the hard way with both her parents, nobody escapes Butte without paying a heavy price.

Her up-bringing shares the dark, warped humour which laces, like arsenic, a rain sodden Limerick in Angela’s Ashes. “My mother had been abandoned as a small child to her maternal grandmother, ostensibly because her parents couldn’t afford her, which may have been true at the time, because her father was drinking so heavily.’ Guess you realise why Enrenreich is said to write with unparalleled precision, insight and a rationalist’s unwavering gaze.

Enrenreich, after revisiting an adolescent journal of precocious observations, explores a life-long quest to discover the truth behind the universe in an act of reconciliation with her secular take on the human condition. Despair eventually redirects Enrenreich to an adolescent quest, an Epiphany from the hall of memory – a mystical encounter in a desert – where she attempts to define being an atheist on a stage populated by gods, “numerous and diverse.”

What’s best about Enrenreich is her relentless probing even when she is at the centre of  tug of war by belief, ‘intellectual surrender,’ and faith, a state of self-delusion, while it is her empiricism which keeps the channels open. This book is an argument for the possibility for consciousness sourced anywhere and everywhere. That besides, the writing is superlative, as in “all day the sky sucks steam from the warm seas, dumping it back into the psychotic violence of a late afternoon squall.”

Steve Lehman Octet

Mise en Abime

As you would expect from a recording bearing the Steve Lehman brand, Mise en Abime is a CD which cannot be tied down. It defies explication. Even the titles are suggestive of something not quite explicable afoot: Segregated and Sequential, Codes: Brice Wassy, Parisian Thoroughfare Transcription, and Chimera/Luchini.

The brevity of the recording, under 45 minutes, and the expeditious speed of its labour, two days in the studio in January last,  is indicative of an experiment, though a well thought out one.

13 Colours first puts meat on the bone, the playful duelling of Chris Dingman’s vibraphone and Tim Albright’s trombone engineering the hot thermals for Lehman’s alto sax to shimmy and dance, with Tyshawn Sorey on drums injecting pace, and this momentum continues with Glass Enclosure Transcription, the emphatic Sorey and Jose Davila on tuba hooking up with the more serrated tenor saxophone of Mark Shim.

The opening track, Segregated and Sequential, is like Lehman saying to the world, ‘I’m back,’ for this is his first recording in five years, but the demonstrative force of the octet is instantly apparent from 13 Colors on. It’s unlikely you will have heard such a river of sound – saxophones, vibraphone and tuba – in spate to such fulsome cohesion as it is here, and we haven’t yet got past the third number.

The sense of urgency about Mise en Abime is ubiquitous throughout: Codes: Brice Wassy, by far the longest track at almost eight minutes, is also the most pleasurable. It has the ingredients of a live session: Lehman’s sax taking Dingman’s vibraphone for a walk, and a glorious trumpet solo by Jonathan Finlayson is segued with Drew Gress’s bass.

The exciting and pulsating interplay between both saxes is superlative on Autumn Interlude, with Sorey and Gress circumnavigating the wind instruments with staccato intensity, and both give Beyond All Limits its lift off, clearing the ground for the Lehman of old, a wonderfully fluent sax which seems incentivized by the Gress-Sorey partnership.

At this stage Mise en Abime has entered another realm. This is a sweet, consoling rainbow of an experiment.

Oh Martha

‘Intense and personal,’ is how Martha Wainwright, daughter of Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle and brother of Rufus, described her approach to song writing and performance in Wexford.

Bookending the Spiegeltent Festival, Wainwright, about whom I previouslu knew precious little, was phenomenal, in a sort of what you see is what you get type of way. Feisty and energetic, her voice has the crescendo bark of a wounded animal, and her syllables soar and extinguish like spent meteors.

Wexford was a launch pad for new work, most of which she didn’t introduce with a title, but she also dipped into a classic repertoire, with a powerful rendition of Everything Wrong, literally sculpting the lyrics with venom:

‘My husband’s been lyin’ and cheatin’

I turned my cheek and reason

I change my tune every day’

At heart, Wainwright is a storyteller, and each song is preceded by a walking preamble, occasionally too long, as in Radio Star, but when she finally switches gear, and croons

I’m at the controls in the big old chair

Nothing has changed except the atmosphere

the magic is instant, passionate and animated, and her choice of mood and rhetorical affect produces that grimace of a fallen angel, a seductive combination in her performance of Jesus & Mary.

She’s the jewel in your crown

But I’m the goal that’s gonna weigh you down

I’ll keep you around this dirty old town.’