Matthew T Grant

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Tall Guy. Glasses.

Dinosaur, Jr.

A friend won some tickets so I got to go see Dinosaur, Jr. on Friday night at the Paradise.

They were loud, of course, but not as loud as the last time I saw them.

This time, I appreciated and understood the volume as an essential component of what they were trying to create, rather than as something that got in the way of my enjoyment.

Volume objectifies the music in a transient yet monumental way. It makes it awesome. Megalithic.

Full disclosure: It also hindered my enjoyment. My ears have too long been battered by amplified music and now certain decibel levels and certain tones are unequivocally painful.

I’ve seen a lot of music over the last year and Dinosaur, Jr. reminded me of what I’d been missing from a lot of it: jamming. Dinosaur, Jr. totally jammed. And as their set progressed, J.’s solos started to stretch out. They became more involved. Elaborate. Articulate. As I wrote elsewhere, they literally blew my mind.

Before people jump on me about that “literally,” I want to stress that I mean it literally. If mind is an episodic and fluctuating state produced as our conscious brain processes external sense data, fluid, eidetic and phenomenological states, as well as the constant activity of the central nervous system, then this product (mind) was dispersed and dissipated by the music. Dust in the wind.

J. Mascis looks like a wizard (a sort of pudgy Saruman) and plays like one, his white hair swinging back and forth as he stares into the middle distance. His solos “spaced me out” as much as Garcia’s ever did. In fact, his epic coda on “Forget the Swan” at the end of the set nearly broke my head. Literally.

While undeniably punk at times, Dinosaur, Jr.’s music has its roots in 60s and 70s (Zeppelin, Rush, Neil Young, Robin Trower, etc.) and I felt, seeing them, that that was as close as I could have gotten, here in 2012, to something like Cream at the Fillmore circa 1967.

I was glad I went.

Update 12/3/2012: Just wanted to add one note on the volume issue. Yes, these guys were loud. But you could hear every single note that J. played. For most of the heavy and loud bands that I’ve heard of late, any lead playing gets lost in the sludge. Such bands would be well-served to learn from the masters.

Lionel Loueke, Regattabar, Cambridge, MA, 10.11.12

Lionel Loueke is an astonishing guitar player and I would like to call the performance I saw last night at the Regattabar “virtuosic,” but that wouldn’t quite cover it.

It woudn’t cover it because, while Loueke is undeniably a virtuoso, the music I heard last night, really, the act of continuous, protean, phenomenal creation to which I bore witness, seemed less a testament to or the pinnacle of human achievement, as virtuosity often is, and more like the act of a god.

And yet, of course, Loueke and his accompanists—the ecstaticly focused Michael Olatuja and the nerdily spectactular Mark Giuliana—are mortals. For this reason, their performance reminded me instead of the infinite possibilities of music, the unending invention of which the musical mind is capable, and not simply that in music there are, on the one hand, the gods, to which these gentlemen would be unquestionably numbered, and on the other, everybody else.

The scope of the music they played was very broad, encompassing everything from jazz and blues to mathy prog to funk to Juju and other west African traditions. At times, it sounded like a more melodically and harmonically rich version of James “Blood” Ulmer’s early 80s work, with the bass and drums tumbling over each other while Loueke showed just how many sounds a guitar could make and how varied a Klangwelt one could conjure with electricity, wire and wood.

At other times, the music was perplexing in its vorticism, its unbridled chaoticism, a maelstrom which caused the bewildered listener to wonder at the apparently telepathic connection between the players (an overused trope in jazz criticism, I know) and, ultimately, to question all assumptions about what music and, in fact, the world could be.

And, at other times, the music was simply beautiful, joyous and entrancing.

I love seeing music that is amazing, surprising and inspiring and last night I was amazed, surprised and inspired not only by the incredible, overwhelming musicality of what these mortals, if that’s what they were, played, but also by the sheer, visible delight with which they played it.

If you like music, you have to see and hear Lionel Loueke.

Jimi Hendrix

I’ve been listening to Hendrix ever since I bought a 45 of “All Along the Watchtower” back in 1978. I’d like to write about the waxing and waning of my obsession with him but, instead, I’ll just post this video of his appearance with the original Experience in Stockholm in 1969:

http://youtu.be/TeZ9OOAe1Ho

More Ragged Glory and Wild Virtuosity

In general, the guitarists I’ve liked the best tend to be kind of raggedy. Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix are perfect examples of this. Their playing was kind of sloppy, kind of slurry, and, at the edges, out of control. For some reason, to my ears, that has always sounded better than the textbook, super-fluid shredder (the best example of that being somebody like Al DiMeola).

I was thinking about this when I attended a bar mitzvah the other week. It was a very intimate and, as far as bar mitzvah’s go, very restrained and modest affair. The service was conducted in someone’s home by an Israeli rabbi with the assistance of a cantor lady.

My wife thought the cantor had a beautiful voice, and I guess it was in its way, but it was too perfect, too trained, really. I like to hear the human in a singing voice, and not simply pure notes generated by a disciplined vocal apparatus. It’s why I’ve tended to admire singers like Frank Sinatra or Scott Walker or, more recently, Karen Dalton.

It’s also why I prefer early sixties Coltrane (1960 European tour with Miles, 1961 Village Vanguard sets with Dolphy)—where he starts overblowing and veering into the noise—to the immediate, post-heroin sheets of sound you hear on Soultrane or the stuff with Monk at Carnegie Hall (recorded in ’57, discovered in 2005) or even Giant Steps.

It’s also why I’ve always preferred John McLaughlin (Inner Mounting Flame, Birds of Fire, Love Devotion Surrender, Emergency!, etc.) to DiMeola and Slayer to Metallica.

What do you prefer?

Photo Credit: Jungle_Boy

How High Was My Fire (or Why High on Fire Matters)

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Easily the best band on earth. I sincerely hope other bands pay attention and decide to eschew all the pretension and all the trends and just focus on creating real, honest-to-God ART. That’s a rare thing these days. – urdisturbing

I went to the Metal/Hardcore festival at the Palladium in Worcester in 1999 mainly to see Morbid Angel, a band I’d been into since 1991.

After reading about Morbid Angel in Spin, I picked up an Earache compilation called Grindcrusher at Disc Diggers (long since defunct) in Somerville (I also picked up Morbid Angel’s masterful Altars of Madness there shortly thereafter) and was introduced to their sound via “Chapel of Ghouls,” a Slayer-esque monolith of strangely psychedelic, thrashy death metal.

Of course, the rest of the cassette kicked as  well because Earache’s roster in the early 90s was a who’s who of genre-defining death and grind bands (Carcass, Entombed, Bolt Thrower, Napalm Death, Terrorizer, etc.). Given my association, then, of the label with a certain level of aesthetic quality, I was happy to come across a basket of discounted Earache cassettes sitting on a table in the hustle and bustle of the “labels” area set up at the Palladium that night.

After a bit of rummaging around I ended up buying some Napalm DeathFrom Enslavement to Obliteration and Harmony Corruption, if memory serves— and a tape that, like anything that matters, altered the course of my life: Sleep’s Holy Mountain.

I’ll be honest. I bought the thing because is was like two bucks and the cover boasted an intricately ornate graffiti tableau consisting mainly of variations on “pot leaf.” Listening to it while driving through the dark and wooded hills outside of 495, my mind just blew and blew. These Sabbath worshipers, thanks to their ability to craft a riff and wail trippily, took unabashed adulation to the point of mad originality. The first galloping notes of “Dragonaut” —the sinewy ooze of the bass line, the oddly chanted vocal (“Ride the dragon under Mars’ red sky”)— hooked me immediately. I couldn’t believe how great it sounded. Read the rest of this entry »

Pat Martino and Tony Monaco at Scullers, May 2010

2426967633_0336258ba3_mCaught Pat Martino’s first set at Scullers last night. He was playing with organist Tony Monaco and drummer Jason Brown and confirmed note-by-sinewy-note  his well-deserved status as a living master still very much in possession of his prodigious gifts.

Martino’s patented “horn-like” lines were in full display, as was his aptly groovy and well nigh gut-bucket comping, while his dynamic phrasing added a sublimely meta-rhythmic layer to all the serpentine spideriness of his “concept.”

One thing that separates Martino from the be-boppers and modernists who preceded him (the Jimmy Raneys and Jim Halls of the world) and the post-modern post-fusionists of today (from Scofield to Rosenwinkel) is that he’s got a healthy dose of the Sixties on him. This shines through in his come-by-it-honestly nativist approach to the funky organ trio setting as well as in his trance-inducing, raga-esque vorticism (which reminded me, at times, of my longtime idol, Gabor Szabo).

In other words, Martino was great.

Nevertheless, for me, the true star of the evening was Tony Monaco. A highly animated and expressive guy (his protean facial expressions were themselves worth the price of admission), he played astoundingly well, moving fluidly from vintage Jimmy Smithery to an ELP-like psychedelia. The neck-deep in the reverb, quasi-soap-opera tone he chose during “Alone Together,” which he rode deep into an obscure, supersonic well, was emblematic of his adventurous, effervescent, and endlessly captivating style. We haven’t heard the last from Mr. Monaco.

The evening’s one moment of strangeness was when Pat temporarily dismissed the band and invited his wife, Ayako, to play a couple numbers with him. I couldn’t get my head around that move until I thought, “This guy has basically been on the road for 45 years and, at this point, the stage is more or less his living room. Why shouldn’t he just sit down with his wife and play a couple tunes for friends?”

Except, of course, the stage is not a living room and we are not his friends, which made this portion of the show either eccentric, endearing, or irritating, depending on where you were at mentally.

Image Credit: tom.beetz

Hero-Worshiping Guitar Player

3684432700_f0789345b6_mWhen I was in college, I played music with a fellow named Tony Benoit. (If you’d like to read the text of an insightful and thought-provoking/action-recommending speech he gave on why we have environmental problems, you may do so now.)

We had a lot of far-ranging conversations about truth, life, art, girls, etc., but of the many things he said to me over the years, the one that stuck in my mind’s craw was the following rebuff, apropos of what I can not now recall, “That’s because you’re a hero-worshiping guitar player.” My friend had therewith hit a certain nail on it’s undeniable head and to this day I dwell on the implications of that sobriquet.

At the time, he was probably talking about my tendency to obsess about Jerry Garcia who was, in his way, my hero. Of course, I also idolized other guitar players, Jimi Hendrix, for example, or Jimmy Page, but Garcia meant something in particular to me at the time.

I had seen the Dead a bunch of times, and I had seen Jerry’s solo band here and there, so he was actually a living person to me (though, when he was playing at Frost in 1982, his ashen pallor had a from-the-grave-ness about it). But beyond that, I, like many of my Deadhead brethren and sisthren, saw in the band, and the figure of Garcia in particular, the living embodiment of a kind of ideal. While the precise contours of this ideal are lost in a vivid purple haze, broadly speaking I would define it as an ideal, not just of freedom, but of a willingness to use that freedom to explore the outer reaches of conscious human experience.

I think, however, Tony wasn’t just talking about my ongoing idolatry of rock stars like Garcia or Dylan or Neil Young. Instead, he was highlighting a more deeply ingrained part of my developing personality. If I admired someone for being extraordinary, and, frankly, I admired Tony in this way, I would see that individual as somehow essentially different from me and consider the qualities that made them uniquely special effectively unattainable.

Tony was trying to wake me up from this delusion. He was trying to remind me that people like Jerry, or, frankly, himself, were ultimately people just like me (or if they were different from me, they were no more different than everyone is from everyone else). As he told me once, “You know, if you could get into someone’s head and live there for awhile, I think you’d find that it’s pretty much like being in your own head.” (Of course, he also said, “When I die, I’ll finally get over this hang-up that I’m different from everything else.”)

Nowadays, while I still admire folks famous, not-so-famous, and downright unknown, I no longer place them in an aspirational realm forever beyond my grasp. No, I appreciate them in their “thusness” and don’t turn this thusness into a self-esteem-withering condemnation of my own thusness.

So, thanks, To(ny).

Image Courtesy of Αλεξάνδρα.

My Santana Problem

317438083_2e3067b329_mFine. I’ll admit it. I like Carlos Santana.

Not the resurgent, iPod friendly, Michelle Branch cum Matchbox 20 Santana of several years back, but the Evil Ways-Black Magic Woman -Oye Como Va-Santana of the hippie era.

Heck, I even dig the jazz-rock-fusion Santana of Love, Devotion, and Surrender and Welcome. And while we’re at it, I’ll cop to having a big soft spot for Moonflower, or about half of it anyway. There, I said it.

Why do I feel like I am herewith confessing to a regrettable aesthetic peccadillo? Because Santana is a one (or two) trick pony who plays a handful of licks with an albeit distinctively fat, warm tone, but who, when required to branch out on extended jams, quickly repeats himself and even more quickly falls back on a weird, wah-wah-fueled, ascending chromatic accelerando which is cool when you hear it for the first time as a thirteen year old but makes you shake your head when heard ever after.

Nevertheless, periodically I find myself listening to Santana, especially the first two albums and any live stuff I can dig up from the early 1970s. The Tanglewood concert on Wolfgang’s Vault is a good example of what I find compelling from this period of Santana’s oeuvre, particularly things like his frenetic but concise phrasing on “Batuka/Se Cabo.”

I think I return to this music, ultimately, because I consistently appreciate Santana’s unabashed devotion to melody, his rhythmic fluidity, and the fact that his playing frequently exhibits enough psychedelic bite to excuse me while I kiss the sky. To get a sense of what I’m talking about, check the outro-solo on “Evil Ways” where the guitar line twists and whips around like a paisley rattlesnake. My mind just blows and blows.

Certainly there is something clichéd about Santana (something which Zappa lampooned with his “Variations on the Carlos Santana Secret Chord Progression”), but it’s important to remember that it’s a cliché  Santana minted and coined himself on his journey from the strip clubs of Tijuana to the patchouli soaked stages of the Fillmores East and West. He’s an icon and a dinosaur who speaks in a hilarious hipster patois that I can never get enough of, but he is also the classic example of a musician whose art is inseparable, for good or ill, from the spiritual longing that burns at its core.

I don’t know how you feel about him, but if you like Santana, you’re going to love him live in Ghana. Enjoy:

Image Courtesy of dgans.