Posts Tagged ‘Cecil Taylor’

Is the alien boy with the lightning bolt makeup on the cover of this 1973 David Bowie album actually Ziggy Stardust? Many think of this iconic image when they think of Ziggy. Such is the fuzzy-edged mish-mash of pop-culture that many inaccuracies, misreadings and plain mistakes become icons for the ages, true or not – and this is one of them. Or is it?

The album is called Aladdin Sane but the character seems to be an extension of the ever-morphing Bowie phantasy persona of the 70s. Bowie himself referred to Aladdin Sane musically as “Ziggy goes to America”, so the Ziggy character logically got the U-S-of-A buff, shine and chrome-plating as well.David-Bowie-Aladdin-Sane

And that same buff, shine and chrome-plating was mirrored in the sound and subject of this new album. Whereas its predecessor, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, told a dystopian tale of rock’n’roll stardom, totalitarianism and suicide, Aladdin Sane seemed to be a celebration of America, freedom and the excesses of the flesh. Where Ziggy seemed very Old World, wrapped in the rain of a bleak future England, Aladdin was all New World, New York, Marilyn Monroe and doo-wop – its vibe distilled into the lyric from ‘Jean Genie’: “New York’s a go-go, where everything tastes nice”.

Which doesn’t mean to imply the music was in any way shallower than Ziggy. Bowie produced these two albums (and arguably, their predecessor, the sci-fi-Gothic Hunky Dory) on a blindingly creative roll. His art was, like the Beatles before him, outstripping all around him in great leaps forward. In many ways Aladdin Sane is a deeper and more creative album than even Ziggy.

One reason was that Bowie seemed utterly unfettered by any limits in his songwriting and lyrics. His established starpower allowed him to now bring in all of his influences from the avant-garde that only were on the periphery of the songs on Hunky Dory and Ziggy. Unlike today where many stars eschew any growth in creativity to consolidate their career positions, Bowie (once more, as the Beatles had done) used his star power to propel his music into some dangerous areas.

Remembering that this was a UK Number One album, check out piano-player Mike Garson’s solo on the title track ‘Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)’ – Garson rakes and smashes the piano like the uncontrollable bastard child of Jerry Lee Lewis and Cecil TaylorElton John it ain’t.

david-bowie-ziggy-stardust-costumeThen there’s Mick Ronson’s volcanic Les Paul intro to ‘Cracked Actor’ and the cartoon Berlin cabaret of ‘Time’ – ‘Time/He flexes like a whore/Falls wanking to the floor…’, the fuck-off arrogant cover of the Stones ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’ and the nightmare doo-wop of ‘Drive In Saturday’. Bowie tested his fans with some wild creative lunges, and yet, batting at the top of his game, rarely misfired.

Lyrically, Bowie also pushed it. Always a challenging and incisively-intelligent lyricist, on Aladdin he gave us some surreal treasures. ‘Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)’s ‘Motor sensational/Paris or maybe hell/I’m waiting/Clutches of sad remains/Waits for Aladdin Sane/You’ll make it…’ or lines that owed more to pulp science fiction than to T.S. Eliot such as ‘Cursing at the Astronette/Who stands in steel by his cabinet/He’s crashing out with Sylvian/Bureau Supply for ageing men’ from ‘Drive In Saturday’.

Produced by Bowie and Ken Scott, the soundscapes are perfect – they ride the line between Velvet Underground menace and 50’s rock on the rockers (almost burying the vocals under the spitting phalanx of guitars on opener ‘Watch That Man’), and sci-fi soundtracks and art music on the moodier pieces such as closer ‘Lady Grinning Soul’ (‘Cologne she’ll wear/Silver and AmeriCard’ – Bowie’s lovesong to the seduction of moneyed America).

This reissue is timely as Bowie has just released his finest work in decades – the album The Next Day. Even though Aladdin Sane is of another time and another planet, the cord of Bowie’s art ties the two together unmistakeably, linking the wild alien boy with the lightning-bolt makeup to the current pensive wizard with the faintly sad eyes.

(Parlophone will be releasing the 40th Anniversary Edition of Aladdin Sane on April 12. This 40th anniversary edition has been remastered by Ray Staff at London’s AIR Studios. Ray cut the original LP during his time at Trident Studios and has received plaudits for his remastering of the Ziggy Stardust 40th anniversary edition last year.)

Published April 2013 on theorangepress.net

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I love this album. I unequivocally stone motherless love it. It is the best jazz album I have heard this year. I could end this review right there, but I will expand.

Free Jazz has long divided even the most pearl-eared listeners. And with good reason – since its development in the early-1960s, its searching nature and fearless deep-end leaping has come up with mixed results. In the hands of magicians such as Pharoah Sanders and Cecil Taylor, Free Jazz can take you out to interstellar space and back; in the hands of band-wagon jumpers who shall remain nameless, the form is a turgid meander in the mire, never really getting anywhere, despite all the steam, noise and sounding brass.

sugg soprano

Negative critics often cite the ‘fact’ that Free Jazz has abandoned all melody, harmony and rhythm – the holy trinity of western music. But none of these have been abandoned at all; the best players are just working way out on the outer rim of these elements – sure, melody, harmony and rhythm are stretched to cracking point but they are most definitely there. And the music that the Free Jazz astronauts bring back from the edge is arguably the most ‘jazz’ Jazz you will ever hear – precisely because a big part of the Jazz mission statement has always been to stretch the music into new and wonderful shapes.

Melbourne saxophonist Andy Sugg’s latest album The Berlin Session was recorded in, inspired by and used musos based in the German arts-Mecca, but the music here takes you to many places. Places of the heart, places of the mind, place of the soul.

US sax giant Dave Liebman called Sugg “a dedicated warrior” and throughout the album his tone and lines (restricted here to only soprano sax) are heroic as he leads his band through the music. Fearless, sensitive, strong.

‘Vignette’ is a cool piece of Coltrane-spiritual worship before the rock and roil of ‘Freedom 2’ – this piece riding on the dense intensity of Berliner drummer Jan Leipnitz and bassist Sean Pentland. It is an intensity that never cloys or clogs – their playing truly swings, despite the elasticity of the pulse.

Both bass and drums shine on the pair of duets, ‘Berlin’ and ‘Teddie’s Blues’ – Pentland on the late night urban ‘Berlin’ rolls like a city subway beneath saxophonist Sugg’s sketch-etched skyline lines. On ‘Teddie’s Blues’, Suggs and drummer Leipnitz converse parti-coloured and party-hearty, full of energy but never overloading into Coltrane-Elvin Jones drumkit-demolition territory. Again, it swings.

A special mention needs to go to pianist Kate Kelsey-Sugg (Andy’s daughter) who makes this already astounding album a truly landmark one. Her comping (is there actually such a thing as prosaic as comping in this music?) is coolly considered when it needs to be – as on ‘Freedom 2’ where, towards the end, she sets up a tessellated repeat pattern that turns the whole performance into something else – and spiky and spitting where fireworks are called for, as on the Cecil Taylor hat-tip ‘Cecil T’. Kelsey-Sugg’s chord textures across the lovely ‘Pastoral’ seem to call from another age (past? future?) and give the piece a new beauty, a beauty we have never felt before.sugg

Andy Sugg’s soprano cannot help but conjure Coltrane, and the last piece ‘For Leib’ (a hi to Dave) is full of the trills and howls that made Coltrane’s last work so rivetting. In the love and joy of the band’s interplay I am reminded of Sunship, one of the first Coltrane Quartet’s last albums, before Elvin and McCoy left John to his star sailing. Sunship is free yet flowing, unfettered yet grooving, dense yet swinging. The Berlin Session is like that.

But The Berlin Session is entirely of its own wonder-full world, influences aside. Did I already say I love this album? Did I mention that I unequivocally stone motherless love it? I recommend you take a listen and get to love it too.

For more information visit: andysugg.com

 

Published December 2102 on jazz-planet.com