by Bob Pomeroy
Music for when words fail.
My last column asked the question, can rock and roll save America? The answer came with a slim majority of Americans saying that there is nothing in American’s current political direction to be saved from. Like the dozens of artists who banded together on the Vote For Change tour, I disagree with the 51% who said we need to stay the course. This isn’t the Ukraine though. We reluctantly accept the election results and look to the future.
After spending most of the fall working on campaigns, I was left speechless on November 3rd. It seemed hard to move, hard to accept what happened, but we all must move on. This return to writing Target or Flag is, in part, a summation of emotional responses expressed through record reviews. Call it the stages of grieving as expressed in records. The one thing all of these releases have in common is they are speechless.
For the stunned, what just happened moments, I put on the reissue of John Fahey, Live in Tasmania. If you aren’t familiar with John Fahey, this isn’t a bad place to start. Fahey was a master on the acoustic guitar who curated a legacy of plantation blues and was equally adept composing transcendent instrumental excursions. Live in Tasmania is a rare document of Fahey playing before a live audience. The concert was recorded in 1980 in Hobart, Tasmania. Listening to Fahey’s guitar takes you out of the day to day reality. He rolls off intricate melodies and counterpoints. The chords swell and swirl around your head. For a little while, the world seems calm and clear. The pressing concerns of the day can be put on hold as you’re swept up in Fahey’s aural hallucination. Maybe it’s all just a dream.
It’s not a dream though. It’s an old cliché that the blues is about good people feeling bad. I never really bought that, but let’s run with it anyway. So we’ve come out of the post election state of catatonia and now we’re feeling down. Blues Extensions Vol.1 by the Paul Speidel Band is a pretty good place to run for some solace. Speidel is from Massachusetts and knows his way around an electric guitar. The eight tunes on this self released CD are bright, upbeat instrumental jams. Speidel knows how to work his solos so that he’s working and developing themes. This isn’t just empty noodling, but some well thought out blues. It’s the sort of thing you can throw back a few beers with, maybe get up and boogie and leave the bar feeling a little better than when you came in.
Alright, we’re feeling a little better now. But now we’re feeling pissed off and angry at the way things turned out. Admittedly, the angriest thing about the B EP by Battles is the group’s name. Battles includes former members of Helmet and Don Caballero. With that lineage you shouldn’t be surprised to hear the band pick up the mantle of later-period King Crimson. The songs combine punk energy with the attention to detail of a mathematics professor. “TRAS3” may be a bit on the introspective side, but “Dance” gets you up for a noisy workout.
So after being stunned, sad and angry, what’s left? For me, it’s time to be resilient and call on inner creativity. The spirit of free jazz is as good as any template for dealing with the new world order. Free jazz has never been overly popular and the form has been written off as dead repeatedly over the past thirty years. Still, through ingenuity and sheer cursedness, creative free jazz continues to thrive out on the margins of popular music.
Brooklyn Cantos by the Gold Sparkle Trio with Ken Vandermark is a great exemplar of the jazz spirit. The Gold Sparkle Trio is based in Brooklyn, New York and have been quietly building their reputation as improvisers to be reckoned with. Ken Vandermark is from Chicago and has been the poster boy for the free jazz resurgence. On Brooklyn Cantos, their forces are combined for a quick romp through the jazz liturgy. “People’s Republic” opens the disc with a reverential meditation that slowly builds to a growling statement of purpose. Across the disc, Vandermark and Gold Sparkle reed man, Chales Waters spar, chase and inspire. Their playing is both structured and free. They pay tribute to tradition and still find ways to be inventive. “Carpet Quarterbagger” ends the tour with a New Orleans inspired workout. The horns joyously float over a stutting second line inspired rhythm. It’s a song of freedom, optimism and hope.
To conclude, I should say that my reaction to the November elections is my own. I don’t pretend to represent Ink 19 in this matter and I certainly don’t pretend to speak for the musicians reviewed here. So if you don’t agree with me politically, it’s still safe to check out the music.
Thanks for bearing with me here. I promise, the next Target or Flag will just be about music with little or no social commentary. ◼