DAVID S. WARE
Live in the World
WILLIAM PARKER QUARTET
I'm about as spiritual as a lint brush, but something or everything about David S. Ware's hocus-pocus fire music brings out the incense burner in me. This year's Live in the World, a three-CD set drawn from concerts recorded in 1998 and 2003 in Switzerland and Italy, has the tenor saxophonist roiling, ululating, and swinging through epic originals and pieces by Sonny Rollins and, be not afraid, Marvin Hamlisch. On the right night, Ware could turn "Three Blind Mice" into an intense study of what number theory, vision, and rodents are really all about. So it's not surprising that he makes as much out of "The Way We Were" as he does out of Rollins' "Freedom Suite."
One of the ways we were was idealistic about the power of free jazz to fight injustice and war and banality and vanity, and Ware, it seems, still is that way, the sap. Pianist Matthew Shipp, who is at his best with Ware, ranges widely and expressively; William Parker issues another draft of How to Make the Upright Bass Sound Like the Voice of Walter Cronkite, Only Better; and the contributions of drummers Susie Ibarra, Hamid Drake, and Guillermo E. Brown (heard separately) create distinct versions of the quartet for each disc.
I'm not entirely sure about this, but I believe that every time the pope sneezes, a new record featuring William Parker hits record shelves (well, a few of them). Of his two '05 albums as a leader, Luc's Lantern, a trio date with pianist Eri Yamamoto and drummer Michael Thompson, is the more accessible and less interesting outing. Parker's sonorous bass is always a pleasure to hear, and in certain wind conditions, ballads such as "Song for Tyler" and "Evening Star Song" actually give off an enticing perfume. Several of the album's tunes, though, are just sturdy ostinatos with "poetic" names ("Mourning Sunset"—oh brother). And while few selections go by without moments of inspiration, the whole affair is a bit too restrained for its own good.
If Live in the World is closest in spirit to John Coltrane's '60s quartet, Sound Unity, a live set by Parker's quartet, ultimately seems to follow from Ornette Coleman's late-'50s/early-'60s band. Parker's squiggly melodies frame lots of free improv with trumpeter Lewis Barnes, alto saxophonist Rob Brown, and my current favorite drummer, Hamid Drake, who sounds as if he's knitting with barbershop poles. The sluggish 20-minute title track might be one of those you-had-to-be-there deals. Had I been there, I might have gone to get a soda, much as I dig the "follow the yellow brick road" reference in the middle. On the whole, though, the group balances its expressionism and its abstraction till you don't know or care which is which—which is the idea, of course. DYLAN HICKS
THE MAGIK MARKERS
I Trust My Guitar, Etc.
In dank, dungeonlike venues, where both audience and the detuned guitars of Elisa Ambrogio and Leah Quimby are subject to head-buttings and tongue-lashings, their hysteria barely corralled by Pete Nolan's perpetual pounding, the Magik Markers throw hissy fits quite becoming of sonic young'uns. That guitar electroshock and masochism lead to a squalled discharge that defiantly eludes confinement, and the asymmetrical taped cardboard of the CD-Rs the band peddles on the road may have captured their volatile mess best, simply by being equally cruddy. For the glossy autumnal gatefold that Thurston Moore's Ecstatic Peace! label lavishly wrapped around I Trust My Guitar, Etc., you would be forgiven for thinking the Markers had polished up their act. The package stuns, from the Badlands–as–After School Special photography to the sleeve stuffed with heavily markered lyric sheet, fawning chapbook of poesy, and bumper sticker, to where the hefty slab of vinyl itself feels disposable. And with its boom-box fidelity created in Brooklyn's Rare Book Room (where the Fiery Furnaces and Black Dice have also recorded), it pretty much is, hissing like a Bikini Kill practice dubbed over a cracked cassette copy of Sonic Youth's Sister. A pity, as they could potentially roar through the murk like Siltbreeze/Xpressway/Blast First trios Harry Pussy, the Dead C, and Ut used to do. Guitar won't convert you, but their live show will make you believe. ANDY BETA
The Magik Markers play Sunset Tavern with Sunburned Hand of the Man!, Ghidra, and Dynamite Club at 9 p.m. Wed., Aug. 24. $8.
Paranoia hangs over baroque-pop mastermind John Vanderslice's fifth album, but it's easy enough to miss amid the mellotron, celeste, marimba, horns, strings, organs, vibes, and timpani. Vanderslice writes with an ear for the ensemble—on "Exodus Damage," no one sound leads, the song making sense only as accreted texture. Then, bang!—a chorus ("Dance, dance, revolution/All we're gonna get/Unless it falls apart") whose murky vibes add superreal emphasis to a lyric about a homeland militant giving second thoughts to terror after watching the Twin Towers fall. Like Sufjan Stevens on Illinois' "John Wayne Gacy Jr.," Vanderslice excels at giving his listeners avenues to empathy for dark characters. "Continuation" paints a psychological portrait of a cop chasing a reopened case as someone (maybe even the cop himself) is using the killer's cues as his own. "Dear Sarah Shu" would sound innocuously cute—a throwaway Magnetic Fields homage—if it weren't for the rising tide of anxiety in its exit memo to a new hire from the narrator's job on a sinking ship. Then there's "Radiant With Terror," the second poem by conscientious objector and anti-nuke activist Robert Lowell that Vanderslice has set to tune. As a consummate music nerd, he couldn't resist lifting the sonic components of Smashing Pumpkins' "Disarm" wholesale—redirecting the acoustic guitar, kettledrum, and bells to a more literal interpretation of said title. In an album drenched in midwar dread, it's one of the only lootings worth celebrating. DAPHNE CARR
A BAND OF BEES
Free the Bees
Recorded, appropriately enough, at Abbey Road Studios, this Isle of Wight sextet's second album is thoroughly steeped in '60s British R&B. From the groovy 12 x 5–era Stones stomp of "Chicken Payback" to the John Entwhistle trumpet homage "Go Karts," the band's clear goal is to skillfully reproduce Swinging London's salad days. Among the few red herrings are "The Russian," an organ-drenched instrumental with a killer bass riff and a funky jam-band rhythm, and the band's anachronistic look: grandaddy beards, Jason Mraz baseball caps, and indie thrift-store T-shirts, as though the group's note-perfect replications obviate the need for furry Edwardian vests and Cuban-heeled boots. It's all about the music, dig? Among the retro-obsessed, the band hews closer to Lenny Kravitz's genre exercises than Jack White's history-as-springboard. But what A Band of Bees lack in originality, they make up with impressive instrumental prowess. Or do they? Given Abbey Road's weighty history and the band's devotion to the past, the temptation to delve into Beatles-style production fuss-and-gloss must have been overwhelming. "Chicken Payback" swings seemingly effortlessly, but is that down to chops or to 17 overdubbed, spliced-together takes, just like George Martin would have done? But even if they turn out to be a studio band, well, so were the Beatles. CHRIS LORRAINE
Another Day on Earth
Over 30 years ago, professional agent provocateur Brian Eno recorded Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy). It was and remains an astounding collection of warped pop, as Eno and his collaborators scrounge through the flotsam and jetsam of junk culture, taking snapshots of burning airlines and the fat ladies of Limbourg. The fecundity of Eno's imagination was not limited to post–Roxy Music glam rock, though; Another Green World remains an uncanny evocation of what a continent created and populated by bemused deity Eno would look and sound like. Another Day on Earth, its title an allusion to his 1975 masterwork, suggests that Eno's latest vision is a vacant and airless one, even if he is singing and writing the lyrics. Here's an oblique strategy: If you remove the artist from the art, you get this album. "Just Another Day" confuses superficiality with surface; "Bottomliners" rumbles expectantly, like a coffee machine. Immaculately recorded and programmed, Another Day on Earth is one of those albums that pushes fans toward tepid qualifiers along the lines of, "It's got really nice textures," or to point out beguiling parts while willfully ignoring listless wholes. But then there's the unexpected pathos of "How Many Worlds," a lullaby buried in the album's icy core. When the lyrics disappear, allowing a string and synthesizer motif to lift the song heavenward, you remember what magnificent effects Eno once wrought with the crudest processes. ALFRED SOTO