Category Archives: Instrumental

“In-dee-pen-dent. In-dee-pen-dent.”

The Books – “That Right Ain’t Shit” from The Lemon of Pink (2003)

I think I can speak for my fellow SWR-ians by saying that the Books fucking rule. I heard them live once on a wintry night in Chicago; I was shushed during the boring-ass opening act by an overweight beardo hipster; the Books killed; in a blissed-out stupor I talked with one of the Books afterward. The cellist. His accent was too thick to understand. I tried to shake his hand and he wouldn’t have it. (Later, Jordy asked me, “Is that what you call him? Is he a Book?) Their live set, to be sure, was fantastic. The kind of show where time disappears.

At any rate, our pal Rob tipped me off to the fact that the Books are working on a new album, to be released in the next year. In the mean time, they’re touring. I missed ’em in NC; don’t make the same mistake.

Buy the Books (or just any old book, I recommend Wolf Whistle by Lewis Nordan)

Posted by Glenn

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Filed under 2000s, Experimental, Folk, Instrumental, Post-rock

Relaxin’

miles_davis_2

The Miles Davis Quintet – “If I Were a Bell” from Relaxin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet [1956]

Thanks to Presidents’ Day, I had today off work.   I think three days is the perfect length for a weekend; they should all be this long.  At any rate, after a long day, sometimes there is nothing better than cracking open a cold one and putting this record on the old hi-fi.   Miles’ trumpet is muted throughout the album, which gives it an especially relaxing tone.  There is also some studio banter between the tracks, which adds to the album’s informal feel.  The last sound on the album is John Coltrane asking “Where’s the beer opener?”  Classic.

This is one of four albums produced from two 1956 sessions.  The others are entitled Steamin’, Workin’ and Cookin’.

Buy Miles

Posted by Adam

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Filed under 1950s, Instrumental, Jazz

Triumph

Explosions in the Sky – “The Only Moment We Were Alone” from The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place (2003)

Triumphalism has long been a sought-after criterion among my musical peers.  These songs usually grow a repeating chord progression over increasing layers of instrumentation into a moment (or, if you’re lucky, moments) of loud, dragon-slaying righteousness.

Explosions in the Sky of Austin, TX are masters of this format.  Their contrapuntal guitar work makes for an even headier climax.  This is life-affirming stuff.  Each of their songs on The Earth is not a Cold Dead Place is a born-again experience.  I picked this particular song because it has more of the good stuff (esp. the lead-up to 7:00 and at 8:30).

I saw these guys in Phoenix a couple years ago and it was everything I imagined but louder.

Buy Explosions in the Sky

Posted by Jordy

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Filed under 2000s, Instrumental, Rock

This is our music

Ornette Coleman – “Peace” from The Shape of Jazz To Come (1959)

Here’s hopin’.

He really should have had Ornette play at the inauguration.

He really should have had Ornette play at the inauguration.

Buy the big O

Posted by Glenn

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Filed under 1950s, Instrumental, Jazz

On John Coltrane and “Burning Out”

Coltrane on soprano sax, Eric Dolphy on bass clarinet.

Coltrane on soprano sax, Eric Dolphy on bass clarinet.

John Coltrane -“India” from The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings (1997)

John Coltrane – “Jupiter” from Interstellar Space (1972)

I’ve wanted to do a post on John Coltrane for a while now, and given our recent discussions of “Burning out vs. fading away,” I figured now was as good a time as any (Coltrane died at age 40 of liver cancer). I’ll start by talking about Coltrane’s music.

The first track is “India,” recorded in 1961 at New York City’s Village Vanguard jazz club. I love the instrumentation here — Coltrane on soprano sax, Eric Dolphy (another premature death, 1964 at age 36) on bass clarinet, McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison and Reggie Workman on bass, Elvin Jones on drums, Ahmed Abdul-Malik on oud, and Gavin Bushnell on oboe. Now, until hearing Dolphy’s bass clarinet solo here, I thought bass clarinet was the domain of unpopular girls in high school bands, but I now know better. The liner notes to The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings say that the oud is providing the drone heard throughout the piece, but I don’t know much about the oud, and don’t know how it can create a drone (the liner notes also mention that there is indeed some confusion as to exactly what instrument is being played here). Any string players care to enlighten me? Also I have a hard time telling the soprano sax and oboe apart, but I think the first solo is Coltrane, and the third is Bushnell, but I’m not sure. Both sound equally squeaky to me. They both could be Coltrane. The second solo is the bass clarinet.

This music was revolutionary in 1961, a mere two years after Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue (which featured Coltrane) was released. Compared to this, Kind of Blue, which is a great bop album, sounds relentlessly structured. These Vanguard concerts, recorded over four nights in November of 1961, showed Coltrane already moving away from the hard bop style and into the free jazz exhibited on his later albums.

The second track is “Jupiter,” from Interstellar Space. This is a particularly interesting album, as it consists entirely of duets between Coltrane on tenor sax (and sleigh bells, as heard at the beginning and end of this track) and Rashied Ali on drums. This was the result of one of Coltrane’s final studio sessions, recorded in February 1967 (he died in August of that year). The album was released posthumously. I like this album quite a bit. It is as “free” as Coltrane ever got in his soloing, and yet it is never overwhelming like Ascension (Coltrane’s msot famous and most ambitious free jazz album) can sometimes be with its eleven musicians.

The Coltrane myth, as most every early-death-of-a-musician-myth does, centers on the question of what he would have done had he not died when he did. And the answer, plain and simple,  is that we will never know.

Now, on the question of burning out versus fading away, which Jordy’s recent post raised. I have been thinking about it in terms of why we tend to give artists who die prematurely more notoriety than those whose lives are not cut short. Glenn mentioned in a comment to Jordy’s post that premature death is good for the myth of an artist. I think that is true, but I’d like to take the discussion a bit further. The reason artists (not just musicians) oftentimes get more attention if they die prematurely is due to our society’s attitudes about death. We are afraid of death, in part because it is the great unknown. I think that we look to the work of artists who have died prematurely for insight into the big black hole of death. We think that maybe, because they died “before their time” (whatever that means), their art holds they key to understanding the one thing that no living person can truly understand. Of course, when these artists were alive they were just as clueless as we are, but we listen to their music or study their books or paintings in hopes that they will have some kind of  insight into this whole death thing.

I’m speaking entirely about Western traditions here — I know next to nothing about Eastern traditions regarding these matters. Can anyone out there shed some light on how these things are viewed in the non-Western world?

Buy the Trane

Posted by Adam

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Filed under 1960s, Americana, Experimental, Instrumental, Jazz, Live

Harriet Beecher Stowe – The May EP

Jeff always played sideways.

Harriet Beecher Stowe – “Waltz” from The May EP [2004]
Harriet Beecher Stowe – “Firebird One” from The May EP [2004]
Harriet Beecher Stowe – “Oceansandsky” from The May EP [2004]

Under the advisement of other SWR personnel, I am making available to the world the unreleased three-song EP by Harriet Beecher Stowe, my band from college.  Featuring the inimitable Jeff Wheeler on the Bass git-box, the irrepressible Mike Kopchick on the drum boxes, and the incontovertible myself on the git-fiddle, these songs are a decent representation of where the band might have gone if we hadn’t split up to do whatever people do after college.  Many thanks due to Ryan Wert for being awesome at putting sounds onto computers.

“Firebird One” also contains the most lyrics HBS ever had in a song, sung through a telephone.

Hope you enjoy.

It’s free you don’t have to buy it.

Posted by Phil

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Filed under 2000s, Instrumental, Post-rock, Rock

Favorite Song to Play, Part III

Dave Holland – “Conference of the Birds” from Conference of the Birds (1972)

I spent a few years (almost) exclusively playing jazz bass. One of my favorite tunes to play with a jazz group is this repetitive jam, the title track off my favorite ever free jazz album. Take a listen, and you’ll understand why: a simple chord progression and beautifully spartan melody allows for plenty of noodling. The recording features Anthony Braxton and Sam Rivers on saxophones, Barry Altschul on percussion, and the impeccable Dave Holland on bass.

I like to play this one, too.

Attend the Conference of the Birds

Posted by Glenn

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Filed under 1970s, Instrumental, Jazz