Seven Days: Day 3 – Tower of Power, Serious Side

Tower of Power, In The Slot (1975)
Tower of Power, In The Slot (1975)
Tower of Power, In The Slot
In The Slot, back cover.

After two posts on very longstanding inspirations, here’s a (slightly) more recent one. Having been introduced to Tower of Power, and On The Serious Side in particular, by Rod Norman – thanks Rod! – about 10-15 years ago, I had always wanted to do this piece with Capricorn, the jazz/funk/soul band I ran for some years. Alas, that never came to pass. One key reason for this was that I never even attempted to learn the drum part. It just seemed so impenetrably and densely funky, in an occult kind of way. Recent dabblings in the rhythms of Fela Kuti’s Tony Allen brought me back, however. And this time around, thanks to YouTube I’ve been able to understand what David Garibaldi was doing… finally! I’m currently teaching myself the drum parts.

This excellent video has helped me loads…

And it ain’t easy! Another number with similarly challenging drum parts, also one I’ve always wanted to play in a group, is Actual Proof, by Herbal Hancock, drums by Mike Clark. So I’m also working on that. I love how these rhythms depart from from the typical eighth-note matrix of most modern popular music, and combine intricate sixteenth note groupings. Highly syncopated, and yet – when executed properly – both laid back and incredibly groovy, they embody a type of drumming I love, admire and aspire to. They also provide a rhythmic foundation for the rest of the group to soar upon, with melodic and harmonic ideas as compelling as the fabulous beats. So props to cats like Dave Garibaldi,  Mike Clark, and more recently – never mind going stratospheric, simply shooting right out into space! – Chris Dave, whose group, incidentally, do a fab cover of Actual Proof.


Seven Days: Day 2 – Joni Mitchell, For The Roses, 1972

Joni Ocean
Inner Joni

Having recently watched and enjoyed an all-star tribute (something I usually avoid ’cause I usually don’t enjoy such things) to Joni Mitchell, filmed on the occasion of her 75th birthday, I went back to For The Roses, one of my favourite Joni albums (Off the cuff, I’d say my favourite trio of hers are her debut, Song To A Seagull, For The Roses, and then either Hejira or The Hissing of Summer Lawns*). On this recent revisitation, a chief and central motivation was the desire to learn how to play Barangrill, one of her Beat flavoured wanderlust masterpieces. For The Roses captures Joni at a fantastic moment, withdrawing from the limelight somewhat into the Canadian wilderness, at the same time her music becoming more open and expansive, hinting at things to come. It’s kind of on the cusp between her earlier somewhat more folksy singer/songwriter girl with guitar/piano stuff and the future more band based material, with its more overt jazz and rock aspects. Getting more specific, Barandgrill is a great example of Joni’s sublimely idiosyncratic guitar style, with her penchant for unusual open tunings, and a playing style – rather like Tom Waits – both remarkably simple and economic, and yet highly personal and difficult to really capture. I was really annoyed when I read a music journalist glibly write it off in a feature on Joni’s career. I note with great pleasure that Mark Murphy (Mark Murphy II) and more recently Robert Glasper share my love of this beautiful song.

*  It’s impossible and pointless trying to pick her best; she has such a magnificent body of work!  That said, it can be fun trying. What about Ladies Of The Canyon? I’m thinking now in particular The Circle Game. Surely one of the most sublime songs ever written? Talking of magnificent bodies, that picture of her naked by the sea/ocean, on the inner sleeve… wow! Yoni Mitchell, I love you forever!

Seven Days: Day 1 – Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass
Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass

Inspired by Margaret Charlston’s recent week of posting book covers, I’m going to do a week of posting stuff that’s currently important or of interest to me. But whereas Margaret just posted the covers, I’m going to say a little about whatever it is I choose to post each day.

I can’t recall with any great certainty when I first heard of Walt Whitman. I suspect it might’ve been via a documentary on Jack Kerouac (Whatever Happened to Kerouac?). I was in my teens, that’s all I can recall with any degree of certainty. Consequently, during my studies for A-levels I bought a cheap American mass-media paperback version of Leaves of Grass at Heffers, in Cambridge. Truth be told, to this day I’ve read only portions of that book. There were two quotes I’d heard from Whitman that really spoke to me: the first and most potent was ‘Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes’, from Song of Myself. This still resonates with me today, not as ‘pure poetry’ per se, but as pure truth. This idea is, in my view, a fundamental part of being human that’s at odds with the modern tendency to specialise. The other quote, this time as poetic as it is true, I first encountered as an album title via Weather Report; I Sing The Body Electric. I actually discovered this bit of Whitman before the ‘multitudes’ thing, and at the time I didn’t know it had been taken from Walt’s works. Rather like William Burrough’s ‘Soft Machine’, I like the way this phrase captures something seemingly eternal and organic in combination with other seemingly more modern ‘techy’ notions, making a whole of them. Thanks to Margaret’s posts I recalled how important Walt Whitman had been to me way back when. I’m resolved to revisit that old paperback and more fully immerse myself in his writings.

FiLM REViEW: The Trouble With Harry, 1955


Wow! What a brilliant film!!

Apparently it was one of Hitchcock’s own personal favourites. It’s certainly one of my favourites by him, and we have almost all of his films. Beautifully shot (sorry, can’t resist the pun) in Vermont, with a superb cast, and a really bizarre and unusual approach – black comedy is the obvious phrase, but doesn’t really do the film justice – to Hitchcock’s favourite central theme, untimely death.

Although it’s completely different to The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, that’s the film I think of as I watch this. Not for any overt similarities, but because it’s a rather singular and beautiful work of cinematic art. Blimp is often funny, but overall it’s profound and moving. This seems at first a purely ridiculous soufflé, almost the opposite of Blimp. But, like so much of Woody Allen’s oeuvre, there’s an enormous depth and warmth hiding in the many layers that are there, if you can not so much see as feel them.

There are so many great things in this apparently light or trivial or even ‘silly’ yarn about what to do with Harry’s corpse (is that the trouble with Harry?), such as the fact that two of the leads – Capt Albert Wiles (Edmund Gwen) and Ivy Gravely (Mildred Natwick) – are not your ordinary leading couple material. And even the more apparently normal male and female leads are delightfully subverted, in the persons of artist Sam Marlowe (John Forsythe) and Jennifer Rogers (Shirley MacLaine), the latter Harry’s wife.

And then there’s Vermont in the Fall, filmed in mid-fifties Technicolour. A magnificently magical setting that evokes a pure Arcadia on the one hand, and a buttoned-down small-town Puritanism on the other. Exactly the right place for this diabolically funny meditation on humanity, morals, sex, art and death.

In a word, brilliant. Essential viewing for the true lover of great cinema.

Misc: the Dark Side, from Metal to Movies… & More…

Reign in Blood
A thrash metal classic…

Listening to Slayer’s Reign In Blood and Seasons In The Abyss albums recently (these are the only albums I have by the group that I really like [1]), I boarded a familiar train of thought: I like this music, occasionally. But how do people only listen to this stuff? Or, from the creative rather than consumptive angle, how could anyone be content to only do fast, loud, intense, aggressive, dark, and so on?

Back in my teens, as a sheltered child, emerging from the cosseted protection of a Christian upbringing of sorts, my first encounters with horror and violence in the world of entertainment media kind of traumatised me. I saw a run of films that were pretty dark and violent, as far I could make out at the time, like Taxi Driver, Blue Velvet, Wild At Heart, and suchlike.

Insect Warfare
Insect Warfare, taking the extremity further… [2]
Some of the film’s were just weird and creepy, like David Lynch’s Eraserhead, others were mob-themed, like Goodfellas and Scarface, but all had aspects that seemed to me to be pure expressions of nihilism and malevolence. Strangely, my previous exposure to such content via music, from Black Sabbath to Iron Maiden, Judas Priest to Motörhead, on to Metallica, Anthrax and Slayer, etc, had no mitigating effect.

Now, many years later, having jettisoned the faith of our fathers, and listening to less ‘evil’ rock/metal than I once did, I occasionally find myself drawn almost hypnotically back towards the ‘dark side’.

Charles Manson
Manson, the Hippy Dream gone horribly wrong.

It’s happened very occasionally before, as when I read a book on Charles Manson, in my early twenties. But usually it’s just a momentary impulse that passes as quickly as it arose. Another little blip a few years back lead me to buy a bunch of those Day of the Dead and Evil Dead movies.

These movies were kind of okay. But they weren’t very scary at all. Indeed, they were more preposterous than frightening. And supernatural horror? Forget it. The premise is so pathetic that everything that follows is so much hokum. To me, at any rate.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Another classic of its kind…

Was I getting like a drug addict, searching for progressively harder highs? Perhaps. I moved on to such films as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. My first attempt to watch it failed, as I did indeed find it rather scary. But a second and complete viewing made me realise it wasn’t at all as gory as it’s often cracked up to be. So, better, but still mostly very silly.

Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer

It wasn’t until I saw Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer, that, at last, I felt I’d hit pay dirt. This was finally a movie about disturbing ideas and behaviour that was both believable and, in places, genuinely disturbing. Once again, a second viewing made me realise that it’s largely less extreme than the fuss made at the time it came out suggested.

That said, there are several scenes, such as the home invasion massacre, and the dissolution of the murderous protagonists partnership, which remain pretty hard to watch.

Pulp Fiction, Vega shoots Marvin
A classic Tarantino moment nears…

One thing that’s very striking is how far the whole culture has gradually shifted. So far that when Tarantino has Vincent Vega accidentally blow Marvin’s head off, as the hitmen drive away from their ‘job’ in Pulp Fiction, it gets a hearty if horrified laugh (even from my Mrs, only yesterday, no less!).

More recently still, I bought Abel Ferrara’s Driller Killer, which is in the same violently ruptured artery as Henry, in many ways. And during the same period I started to seek out and watch both YouTube docs and full length features on serial killers, preferably real world ones.

I’m still in the grip of this most recent interest. So whereas before I’d get interested and then move on. At present the interest is what I’d call an abiding one. And it’s even drawn me back to investigating all that dark/black metal type stuff…

Venom, Welcome to Hell
Venom’s artwork promised something darker… [3]


[1] I also have their debut, Show No Mercy. The trouble with that one is the awful thin, tinny production. If it were redone, it’d probably be ok. I’d like to get South of Heaven, as I did hear it back in the day, and quite liked it. But it wasn’t as enjoyable as the blast of fetid air that was Reign In Blood.

[2] Not a group, or even a genre (grindcore?) I’ve listened to. Just here as a visual example of the crossover ‘twixt extreme violence/gore and extreme metal.

[3] … than the music actually delivered. The music was more in keeping with this image:

Venom, café
The true spirit of much black metal is camper than panto’!

MUSiC: R.I.P. Ginger Baker

Ginger Baker, Blind Faith, 1969.

Ginger Baker’s lithely syncopated grooving on Cream’s cover of Born Under A Bad Sign was the catalyst that sparked a soulful musical reaction in me that has ultimately shaped my whole life.

I loved the spatially funky unison guitar and bass riff as well, and that has remained another albeit rather more minor fascination. But Baker’s rumbling, clattering drumming, loose to the point of bagginess, cyclic yet subtly morphing all the time, that really was like a psychic spear through my musical heart.

Rather strangely, perhaps, in that small musical moment, Peter Edward ‘Ginger’ Baker, a white guy in an all white band, playing a song by Bluesman Albert King, distils into a form of new funk-rock, with a distinct whiff of jazz legacy, the whole chain of Afro-American music that fascinated him all his life, from the ritual drums of Burundi via jazz and the blues to modern rock.

Ginger Baker
The young jazz/beat Baker.

Even more oddly, Baker does this channelling act more potently on this cover than Albert King – with the legendary Al Jackson, Jr. on drums – do on the original! And more bizarrely still, when the reunited Cream performed this number at the Albert Hall, in 2005, Baker didn’t revisit his earlier voodoo gumbo. I’m sooo glad I wasn’t at that show*. That might’ve shattered my iconic respect for the drummer who is, for better or worse, the keystone influence on my career as a rhythmatist.

Ginger Baker
Ginger Baker

I’m not a Twitter reader, but reading various online obits on Baker eventually lead me, inevitably, to his Twitter feed, where, amongst tributes from the Jack Bruce estate, Macca and Jagger et al, was this ‘official’ statement:

‘We are very sad to say that Ginger has passed away peacefully in hospital this morning. Thank you to everyone for your kind words over the past weeks.’ 

‘This morning’ being Sept’ 6th, 2019. Despite his wild and often very intemperate life, the old dog made it to 80!

The tradition in official obituaries is to go over the deceased’s whole life (as in this BBC one). But as this is my personal tribute to the man, I’m going to stick to the stuff that really affected me.

For me Baker was, when I look back, an unusual ‘flash in the pan’ inspiration. I didn’t find much else in his career, outside of Cream, that I ever really dug. Indeed, even within Cream, it’s only a few choice moments that do it for me, both in respect of Baker individually, and the band as a whole.

Eric Clapton went on to a much more consistently top flight career, both in terms of the quality of the music itself and the success that can go with it. Baker by contrast floundered around in semi-obscurity, his collaborations usually looking better on paper than they sounded.

He wasn’t someone easy to love, as is painfully clear in the film Beware of Mr Baker. And his visage in later life is a clear outward manifestation of inner pains and strife. A sad and cautionary image when set against the cocky smiling Baker  of the early Cream era.

Ginger Baker
The latter-day Baker.

His love of jazz and his bitter mix of snobbery and contempt regarding rock drumming as a whole, and other famous drummers of (more or less) his own generation, like Bonham, showed a crabby, cantankerous meanness of spirit that hardly make for a saintly halo.

But far all that, thanks to his channelling of the spirit of ‘the groove’, and his position as a key formative influence on me, I’ll always love him. Perhaps now the ornery curmudgeon is physically gone from this vale of tears we can celebrate the best of his legacy?

I don’t believe in a literal afterlife. It’d be lovely to think Baker was up there, at the great jam-session in the sky, slugging it out with his jazz idols. But certainly folk like him get a stab at an afterlife down here. His recorded legacy can and should be remembered and treasured.

* This reminds me of how disappointed I was when I made my pilgrimage to Edinburgh to see Tom Waits, in 2008; arriving massively late on stage, he performed a – by his own standards – bog-standard short set comprising almost entirely his current repertoire. He played just one of his ‘early years’ songs (I can no longer remember if it was Tom Traubert’s Blues or Invitation to the Blues). It was the earlier Waits that had captured my heart. I was gutted. It was such a disappointment. And such an expensive disappointment.

Film: The Majestic, 2001

Last night Teresa and I watched this film, which finds Jim Carrey portraying a rather different character from the usual goofy comedic type he’s best known for.

Set in the 1950s, it’s definitely a nostalgic period-drama, and in more ways than just the visual  aesthetics…

I wasn’t altogether surprised to learn that the movie bombed at the box office and was mostly panned by the critics. On some levels I can understand the criticisms. It is a large dose of cornball hokum, in certain respects.

But all things considered, I think it’s an excellent film, in an old-fashioned but admirable way…

MUSiC: Louis Cole, Heaven, London, 16/5/2019

May 16th was the tenth Anniversary of my wedding with Teresa. Unfortunately I booked a ticket to a gig on the same day without noticing the clash of dates. When it drew nearer, and I realised, I tried to convince Teresa to join me, in attending the concert, but she didn’t want to, alas.

Anyhoo, I wound up going anyway, as I was determined to see Louis Cole live, having only recently discovered him, and so often missing such events. Going down to London for a gig was great fun. I drove all the way. I didn’t need to worry about the Congestion Charge, as it was after 6pm.

I had the car parked in a hotel, by a valet! This was arranged through Just Park, and was great. The gig was at Heaven, where I used to go to the club night Megatripolis (or Mega-Triple-Tits, as we sometimes knew it). Those were strange days, when I was something of a lost soul. I didn’t like the techno/trance clubbing or ‘rave’ scene that these nights were part of. But the crowd I was hanging out with at the time were really into all that shit. And tumbleweed soul that I was, I drifted along with it.

Anyway, all that is another story, perhaps for another time. On this occasion I was there to see/hear some music I love. There is a bit if irony inasmuch as I would’ve preferred, I think, to see Cole with other supporting musicians, as opposed to performing solo.

His solo act consists of looping stuff played via keyboards, using a laptop running some sort of sequencing software, singing along, and occasionally hopping on the drums to go ape. It’s a strange mix, frankly. As a drummer I really enjoy the kit segments. And I’m quite surprised how much others appear to enjoy this part to.

However, the singer/songwriter aspect of his craft suffers a little in this format, as he has to layer the sounds live – on this occasion, impressive as he was, it was far from flawless – and he tended to cut the songs, once they got going, rather short.

Now, my memory might be failing me here, but whilst I heard a good number of his ‘hits’, I missed a few I particularly would’ve like to have heard, such as ‘?’, Blimp and Things.

I was also a trifle disappointed at the merch’ stall, which had just the one rather crappy tee-shirt, and only his most recent Time album, on CD and vinyl. I bought a copy of the CD. I had been intending to perhaps buy several CDs, by which I mean I was hoping to acquire both other discs if former recordings, and multiple copies to give to friends/family. But in the end I only bought the one, for my own personal ‘stash’. Partly ’cause only the one was available, and also cause I wasn’t sure who, if anyone, might appreciate it.

My final thoughts on this concern the child of our times type idea: I’m now in my late forties; Cole’s in his early thirties, and the audience was mostly very young (teens/twenties). This impinges on several factors: the energy/vibe, which was very much that of youth. And then there are the ‘fashion’ aspects, which affect both the music, and his Cole and his fans present themselves.

As I grow older I care less and less about the tribal identification that’s part and parcel of modern culture, and modern pop-culture in particular. And whilst Cole’s music speaks very directly to me, the visual presentation aspect isn’t quite so concurrent.

His goofy dancing in, for example, Weird Part of the Night, I absolutely love. But his sartorial choices – goofily postmodern, part kitsch, part lazy slob (witness the towel nightgown in the Things video) – is a little alien to me. It seems to partake of a dayglo trashiness (and his Knower musical stuff even more so, esp. in the visuals aspect) in a way that revels in the junkiness (and I mean disposable tibbish, not drugs) of contemporary culture.

All of this comes to a head in his spoken word recitation, to the backing of ‘More Love Less Hate’, which I both admire for its unabashed retro-beatnik candour, and find slightly awkward. I guess this sums up Cole and his music, as it currently stands: impassioned, admirable, and slightly awkward.

Like his performance, this was less than perfect. And, in some respects, that in itself was as much a strength as a weakness: it was real. The most ‘jazz’ thing about his performance – and he’s been schooled in the jazz tradition (taught by big-band dude ‘?’ and citing hearing Tony Williams’ Lifetime as life-changing) – is that at its core, and despite the use of tech/loops, it’s live in-the-moment improv.

Folk like Vulfpeck and Cole give me hope that modern music still has a human heart, or – dare I say it? – soul. Vulfpeck’ connectedness and indebtedness to traditions of funk, soul, etc, are more trad and obvious. Cole’s somewhat more chameleon and magpie like, and consequently both a bit more radical and uneven.

Still, I’m glad I made the effort to get out and see him play live. It’s not something I do much anymore. In truth it’s not something I’ve ever really done that much. And despite flying solo on this occasion (actually it’s a lifetime M.O. with me) it was both fun and worthwhile.



MUSiC: Louis Cole

Well, I have to say it again, I love YouTube. Once again I find a new artist, to add to others I’ve discovered there, such as the brilliant Vulfpeck and, going back a bit further, the interesting antipodean King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.

The last of these – KG&tLW – was a refreshing blast of young prog strangeness, a little off my usual map, but overlapping in areas (odd time signatures, some stuff leaning towards the jazzy/funky or even folky spectrum), whilst Vulfpeck (and Jack Stratton, Theo Katzmann and the Fearless Flyers, etc.) were gobsmackingly poifeck for me.

Louis Cole is somewhere between these two, in that his output is quite prolific, and kind of balanced between Knower, a duo/band project with singer Genevieve Artadi and others, and his own eponymously titled output.

The stuff he does with Knower is very interesting, and most often also very good.  But like KG&tLW, it’s a bit off my usual musical map. And, like the proggers from Down Under, that’s partly due to youthful exuberance. Knower has a level of intensity – I find their video-songs more enjoyable than the many live performances that are online – I find wearying!

You might say, ah, you sorry ol’ duffer. But, truth be told, I’ve always preferred the mellower thide of sings, even though I do like everything from Coltrane’s Interstellar Space to Slayer or some Meshuggah. And I love intense funk and rock, prog, folk, etc. It’s not intensity per se, it’s the particular qualities, or specifics of how it’s done in any given instance.

So, Knower aren’t always my cup o’ tea. But Louis Cole? Now that’s another matter! I love Vulfpeck and Jack Stratton. I really love ’em! But Louis Cole is somethin’ else. For starters, he’s a phenomenal drummer. And as a drummer I love that. Actually both Jack Stratton and Theo Katzmann (no to mention the many guest drummers they’ve had, which includes Louis Cole as it happens) are superb drummers. But LC is at an altogether ‘nother level.

There’s a drummer that used to live local to me, Ric (Byers?), who does stuff under the 05Ric moniker with Gavin Harrison. Any knowledgeable drummer will know Harrison is choptastically mind-boggling. But I actually prefer Ric’s ‘chaos jazz’ drumming style, over Gav’s metronomically polished super-clean super-tight style.

Louis Cole, on the other hand, can do everything from tight simple minimalist drumming to clattering jungle or chaotic jazz, and has that kind of bubbling polyrhythmic intensity that conjures all sorts of potential influences, from Tony Williams and Rashied Ali to Mike Clark, or possibly even Jake Leibezeit, or Dave Garibaldi?

Funnily enough (funkily enough?), however, it was only after I’d listened to him quite a lot that I realised how great a drummer he is. This was partly because several of the times I first encountered him found him playing with other folk (e.g. sitting in with Vulfpeck), or not drumming, but singing, playing keys, etc. (e.g. the monstrously magnificent Thinking Live Sesh, on which Nate Wood is drumming).

But even just seeing him pumping out the groove to Vulfpeck’s It Gets Funkier made it very obvious there was something different and special about him: looking like he’d just got out of bed, and still had on his jammy’s, he plays a deceptively intense funk groove open-handed – left hand on hi-hat, right hand on the snare – and looks like he’s in a world of his own.

And that last observation kind of captures the essence of LC: he really is in a world of his own. A musical one-man-band world of his own making. And it’s a beautiful world. It really is. Cole looks much more comfortable multitracking and multivideoing himself on YouTube than he does in most his collaborations (Knower excepted). As he says in an excellent talk he gave [where? Link?], when it comes to his own music, he’s a bit of a control freak, he knows what he’s aiming for, and he’s the best placed to realise his own audio and and visual visions.

I think he’s been putting stuff out, mainly/mostly via YouTube, for about a decade now. The vast majority of it is simply sublime. And even the stuff I’m less keen on (and there’s actually very little of that) is both very interesting in itself, and… well, I could blather on. Just check it out yourself.

His earlier material is slightly more lo-fi, not unexpectedly, seeing as he’s learning on the job as an online content creator. But it’s also more varied and eclectic. Some is downright weird, whilst other stuff can be quite ‘sweet’, it’s all both very good and very interesting. It’s still early days for me, in terms of exploring his complete back-catalogue, but at present my favourite of his earlier material is Below The Valleys:

That was a more recent discovery for me. The stuff I’ve been mostly diggin’ on is more recent, i.e. within the last year, and includes all of the following: Blimp, Weird Part Of The Night, Things, Sometimes, Thinking, Phone, Drive, blah…

So, not only is he a brilliant drummer, but he’s a superb singer – those high notes in Sometimes! – a sublime songwriter (and mixer/producer, etc.), an excellent keys player, and a dab hand on sundry other instruments, such as guitar, percussion, and so on. And as if all that wasn’t enough, he’s witty, edits/directs fantastic videos, and looks like (and appears to be) an incredibly cool cat! Damn!!

But whereas all this talent might make one nauseous, envious, deflated, or all three, Cole’s music, indeed his whole vibe, is so beautiful, so joyous, that many (clearly, from the comments on his YouTube videos), myself included, are utterly seduced and charmed, captivated and inspired, by his creative output.

I’m a bit of an occasional one man band myself. And I’ve got a fairly huge back-catalogue of music languishing on hard drives. The blissful intensity of experiencing the sound worlds of Louis Cole is making me wonder if perhaps I should pick up my own musical threads, and put it all out there.