Friday, October 20, 2017

Dogon A.D.

The Dogon are an ethnic group living in the central plateau region of Mali, in West Africa, south of the Niger bend, near the city of Bandiagara, in the Mopti region. The Dogon are believed to be of Egyptian descent and their calendar goes back thousands of years to 3200 BC. 

According to their oral traditions, the star Sirius has a companion star which is invisible to the human eye. This companion star has a 50-year elliptical orbit around the visible Sirius and is extremely heavy. It also rotates on its axis.  The star, known now to modern astronomers as Sirius B, wasn't even photographed until it was discovered by a large telescope in 1970.

The Dogon claim they know of the twin star from the Nommos, a race of people from the Sirius star system that visited Earth thousands of years ago. The Nommos were amphibious beings that resembled mermen and mermaids. They also appear in Babylonian and Sumerian myths. The Egyptian Goddess Isis, who is sometimes depicted as a mermaid, is also linked with the star Sirius. According to the Dogon legend, the Nommos landed on Earth in an "ark," and they informed the Dogon of the existence of Sirius B, as well as the four major moons of Jupiter and Saturn's rings, discoveries not known to Westerners until Galileo invented the telescope. The Dogon also understood the heliocentric nature of the solar system.

But that's not the point.  The point is that back in February 1972, the musician Julius Hemphill went into a recording session in St. Louis, Missouri and performed a composition called Dogon A.D.  We used to listen to this song on the radio very late at night while studying or pulling all-nighters back in college. Forty five years later, we still consider the song to be one of the most thrilling, not to mention coolest, pieces of music ever performed. Props go out to Abdul Wadud's powerful cello on this piece as much as to Hemphill's brilliant alto and Baikida E.J. Carroll's trumpet.  

We've seen Hemphill perform live several times over the years at various jazz festivals and concerts, usually with the World Saxophone Quartet, but although we were always hoping he'd break into Dogon, A.D., we never heard him perform the piece (we think you'd really need to have Wadud on board to perform it properly).  Sadly, Hemphill reached the other shore back in 1995 at the age of 57. 

In case you don't know how to listen to this kind of music, don't just play it in the background and then go on about your day (or night).  Give it your full attention, and if you try to hum or sing or whatever along with the saxophone lines, you'll better understand the way Hemphill was expressing himself and who he was and what his spirit was like.  And when you understand that, it will transform you, just like reading a novel by a brilliant author infuses your own consciousness and changes the way you are.

What we're trying to say (and here's our point) is that if you listen to this closely enough you'll hear some strange and wonderful things, and if you listen closely enough times, you may become someone strange and beautiful yourself.  

Give it a chance.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

And for Donald Trump - How to view your penis without a microscope as it nears Melania tonight

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Ever since Kelsey Lu opened her set at The Earl last week with a recording of the Art Ensemble of Chicago's Certain Blacks, I've been thinking a lot about that band and the type of music I used to listen to back in college.  I wouldn't go so far as to say that Malachi, Roscoe, Lester, Jarman, and Famoudou Don Moye were the John, Paul, George and Ringo of my college years (as that would omit Anthony Braxton), but that wouldn't be completely off the mark either.

I won't post the AEoC's Certain Blacks here (it's a little too avant for most people's tastes), but here's the very accessible and enjoyable Dreaming of the Masters.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Sadly, I was shot and killed before I could take the next picture in this sequence.

Just kidding!  Not dead yet!  But these are some photographs from my inspection today of a small portion of the Military-Industrial Complex. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Alvvays at Terminal West, Atlanta, October 11, 2017

Last Wednesday night, Toronto's Alvvays played a sold-out Terminal West.

We arrived before the doors opened at 7:30 and there was already a line in front of the box office, a rarity for TW, but we still managed to get a good spot from which to watch, only about one row back from the stage.  If we had any doubts about whether or not we were in for a good night, those concerns were assuaged by a medley of Yo La Tengo songs played on the house PA before the show began.   Anything that begins with a medley of Yo La Tengo songs is probably going to be alright.

The Halifax-based band Nap Eyes opened the show and proved we were correct.

We know Nap Eyes for only one song, No Fear of Hellfire, but we've wanted to see them for a while now.  The last time they played Atlanta that we know of just so happened to be on the same Sunday night as Hinds was playing at The Mammal Gallery, so unfortunately we missed them back then, so it was good to finally make their acquaintance on Wednesday night.  On their first song, they sounded like vintage Velvet Underground, and on their second, vintage Talking Heads, and for the rest of their set, they sounded like Nap Eyes. They closed their set with a blistering guitar solo that lead into No Fear of Hellfire.

So that was cool.

Part of the enjoyment of going to shows is that you, individually, can disappear and become part of a larger community - the appreciative audience of fans.  We think it's the same on stage, where individual musicians disappear into the collective band.  Each band member is contributing something to the overall sound, and knows the audience is there for the sum total of the parts, not their individual contribution.  Even the front-person knows that she sounds good only because the other guitarist is filling in all the important parts, the keyboardist is fleshing out the sound and adding texture, the drummer is keeping it on the right rhythm, and the bass player is holding the whole thing together. We think there's a spiritual unity there, an intimacy, and it shows when ego gets in the way and one musician or another forgets their place in the collective whole.

It's like that for the audience, too  Collectively, you can inspire the band with applause and timely reactions to particularly timely passages, and individually you can come to appreciate a band even more by allowing yourself to get caught up in the collective enthusiasm.  Resist the enthusiasm and you're just standing there, arms crossed, out of it and not having a good time, or fantasize that you're not part of a larger crowd and the band is playing only for you and you alone, and then you're like those two drunk girls at Tuesday night's Hundred Waters show.

The truly sublime moments come when both the audience and the band enter into a shared collective identity and everyone disappears, on stage and on the floor.  Wednesday night's set by Alvvays was like that.     

We've seen Alvvays before, twice opening for The Decemberists during their two-night stand at The Tabernacle, and once opening for Yuck at The Earl back in 2014.  They sounded pleasant enough back then, and got a nice reaction from the audience with their signature anthem, Marry Me, Archie.  But since that time, they've released a new record, this year's fabulous Antisocialites, and damn if they don't sound ten times better - crisper, more melodic, and perfectly balanced.  Lead singer Molly Rankin's voice not only rose nicely above the band, but her enunciation is such that you could even follow along to all the lyrics, even to those songs you hadn't heard before   

Alvvays sounded great and the new songs from Antisocialites sound even better live than they do on disk (and that's saying something).  As implied earlier, the audience was incredibly supportive (without being obnoxious) and everyone had a great time.  Alvvays ended their set with their hits Marry Me, Archie and Dreams Tonight, followed for some reason by Party Police, although after the triumphant one-two punch of Archie and Dreams, Party Police was a bit underwhelming.

Listening to these two songs back-to-back is as good an explanation as any of the leap Alvvays seems to have made from a good band (Archie) to a great band (Dreams).

Final note:  Being an old man, and a working one at that, I was pleased that I got home from the show well before 11:00 p.m.

Another note:  What the hell is wrong with Archie, anyway? Why doesn't he just marry that girl, already?