Freedom to Improvise

4 07 2011

Phish is completing its ninth Super Ball, a multi-day gathering in Watkins Glen, NY, by latching onto the key component of jazz, improvisation, and holding an audience in the tens of thousands spellbound with its power to tell a story musically.

That improvisation, an ancient musical art, can be so popular with a youthful following remains in itself both surprising and reassuring. John Coltrane and Ravi Shankar, critical influences on the Grateful Dead during the early ’60s, would be right at home at the Super Ball. Phish and the Dead share the gene of rock and will always be linked no matter how dissimilar their approaches. But improvisation will always be their great connection.

Believer magazine interviews Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio about the crucial ingredient in the band’s music.

BLVR: Who were the important improvisers for you?

TA: I liked Clapton, Jimmy Page. But there was this one year that changed me. It was when I saw Pat Metheny. He came to Richardson Auditorium, and he was playing with a jazz, harmonic vocabulary but with a pop sensibility. I saw King Crimson around that time, too. Robert Fripp was playing these crazy mathematical patterns. He’d be playing in a time signature of 7/4 while the other guy, Adrian Belew, played in 5/4, and they’d meet up thirty-five notes later. This kind of thing. But you have to put yourself in 1978. I was born in ’64. So I was fourteen. I saw Stanley Jordan in that same place. And Wynton Marsalis. All those concerts were in one year, and that’s the year I got into improvisation.

Here are some great postwar improvisers at work. This progressive and adventurous strand  of music is a fabulous way to celebrate freedom this Fourth of July.





Heavy Rotation

4 06 2011

‎”If I’d known I would be this happy in my personal life at 65, I’d have got older quicker.” — Robert Fripp on his most recent birthday.

Our flounder.

Speaking of whom, Six-String Genius ranks its top 10 Fripp-works here. Quirky list and sincere. David Sylvian’s Gone to Earth at No. 2? Really, it’s hard to argue with any of these choices. But let the breeze rearrange the titles & rankings and it’d still be an inspiring list of energy and ideas. As a sound manipulator, Fripp is extremely hard to underrate. Head-shakingly creative music.

Here’s another positive NYT review of Rob Young’s Electric Eden. “The visionaries here, in broad terms, are folkies who drew their inspiration from the music of a bucolic past rooted in the land — the nascent Britain of long-ago Albion, with a millennium or two of fairies, druids and whatnot to pick from. These artists rejected the decaying industrial England they saw around them in favor of a simpler pastoral one that enlivened their yearnings with mysticism, (really) retro clothing and mannered vocalizing. Young sees this as a search for an “electric Eden”; his vast travelogue encompasses novels, films, poems and BBC documentaries; reams of folk, religious and spiritualist scholarship; tales of public flamboyance, festivals and hippie-dippy explorations; and, first and foremost, music.”

Reviewed by Bill Wyman. No; the other one.

Speaking of reviewers, Greil Marcus continues to fox. The NYT sez: “His recent scrapbook compilation, ‘Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings 1968-2010,’ shows him in a decades-long game of chess against the man who is his favorite subject, bugaboo, muse, hobbyhorse and intellectual crush object.”

So then, it’s not crap. OK. If you insist.

Marcus continues to be truly out there, somewhere. It’s tough to ignore him but hard to completely buy in. Whenever it becomes too easy to trash him, read Real Life Top 10 in Believer magazine. That’s the beauty of art criticism– there’s evidently no right or wrong, only options.

You’re reading the voice of jealousy here, by the way.