THELONIOUS MONK QUARTET WITH JOHN COLTRANE
Live at Carnegie Hall
One Down, One Up: Live at the Half Note
Thelonious Monk's "funny" (per Miles Davis) tunes retain the ability to paste joyously goofy grins on listeners' faces more than half a century after his recording debut. He often returned to the same numbers over his career, but Live at Carnegie Hall is a literal discovery—until now, documentation of Monk's work with John Coltrane has been limited to half an album side or so of studio takes and a poor private recording of a club date. Even before Blue Note picked up the rights, this 51-minute Voice of America tape (from a November 1957 benefit whose bill also included Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, and Chet Baker) made headlines in The New York Times.
Those grins are likely to become permanent, like your mama warned, upon hearing Coltrane playing off an exuberant Monk, taking "Bye-Ya" for a giddy ride with his already commanding new style. Speedy and swirling, Coltrane's performances there and on "Blue Monk" project a sense of play along with the mighty growth his work was undergoing; this gig came two and a half months after he cut Blue Train.
By early 1965, Coltrane had recorded the widely applauded suite A Love Supreme. He was also well on his way to alienating some listeners with the free-jazz manifesto Ascension. One Down, One Up is the first official issue of four broadcast takes from the era when his quartet's performances were growing ever longer and more questing; announcer Alan Grant marvels at the title track's duration, and it's hard to tell which side of the fence he's on.
Thanks to the radio slot's time limit, a snake-charming 22:47 "My Favorite Things" is still tumbling forward as the music fades. Despite former boss Davis' admonishment to "take the horn out of your mouth," Coltrane gives equal or more time here to pianist McCoy Tyner while using his own solo space to roam at will over bar lines, digging for the beauty in the blatting. Likewise, a brave, somersaulting transformation of Coltrane's soul-time ballad "Afro Blue" disappears into the ether before it resolves. These rude interruptions are kind of fitting, given the (accurate) impression they lend of a man who spent his last years living the cliché of one eradicating the borders between his life and his art. With his wonder at interstellar space, it's easy to imagine that Coltrane would be happy that the airwaves carrying his sound are still bouncing around somewhere out there. RICKEY WRIGHT
THE BAD PLUS
Listening to Suspicious Activity? is like playing strip poker with your nuclear family and liking it enough not to care who wins or when; the Bad Plus' appetite for transgression rages harder than that of any band in their class. Granted, they're not exactly plowing a crowded field—while perfectly capable of innovation, even danger (think Cecil Taylor), jazz piano trios exist primarily to showcase instrumental prowess while facilitating the sale of food and/or booze. They don't necessarily think about the latter, nor do they have to; no horns, guitars, or electronics means they're immediately attractive to savvy club owners who know that no matter how disruptive the band gets, servers will still be able to communicate with customers minus mutual shouting. Hence, the Bad Plus glide through packed, six-night stints at the Village Vanguard. Sure, some people dislike them intensely, as Vangelis probably will after hearing this album's "Chariots of Fire." Not because they're white, originally from the Midwest, and perpetually droll, either—the bloodthirsty deconstruction is everything a hater could ask for, its relative fidelity early on merely a setup for a succession of stunts that find bassist Reid Anderson's slippery funk figures laying elastic bridgework between Ethan Iverson's careening piano joyride and David King's rock-infused percussion fusillades. While the group's MO is consistent, mastermind Iverson's capacity for turning colorless schmaltz to iridescent tar is best deployed on the band's originals. Opener "Prehensile Dream" sounds like '70s soap opera material transmuted to fractal fugue, each repetition of the song's unabashedly sentimental theme—there are many, no two alike—heralding a darker, more convoluted resolution. ROD SMITH
The Bad Plus play Dimitriou's Jazz Alley with Mocean Worker at 7:30 p.m. Tues., Nov. 1–Wed., Nov. 2. $21.50.
OHM+: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music 1948–1980 (Special Edition)
Now that more recorded sounds derive from transistors, samplers, and MIDI decks than "natural" sources, nobody raises an eyebrow at electronic music anymore. But long before Robert Moog or Brian Eno or Wendy Carlos, musician-engineers and engineer-musicians were struggling to produce synthetic sound from equipment never meant for the job. Leon Theremin was one of the first. The electronic version of a conventional instrument that bears his name was already familiar in the mid-1920s, but the real pioneers didn't begin their march into the sonic unknown until the late 1940s, when the easily editable medium of magnetic tape allowed them not just to preserve sounds electronically created but to mix and match them with other recorded material as well. John Cage's I Ching–derived Williams Mix (1952) lasts fewer than six minutes and contained literally thousands of edits. Composer Bebe Barron, who realized the tape from Cage's 700-page "score" with her husband, Louis, is quoted in the liner notes as wishing "that we hadn't spent so long on some of it," but it holds up better as "music" than the excerpt from the Barrons' original electronic score for the film Forbidden Planet from four years later, so Cage has the last laugh anyway.
The decade 1955–1965 marked the medium's takeoff, with "real" composers like Edgard Varèse and Milton Babbitt issuing major works (both represented on this luscious expansion of 2000's crucial three-CD box set), but it was Karlheinz Stockhausen, working at the West German Radio Studio in Cologne, who forced the music world to recognize that there was no going back to primal purity. His 14-minute Song of the Youths is the earliest unequivocal shit-kicking masterpiece of electronic music, but far more influential is Kontakte (1959), a 16-part exploration of the sound universe for piano and percussion processed electronically in real time. The six-minute excerpt on OHM+ only hints at the 75-minute piece's revelatory genius, but you can hear traces of it in what everybody else, from Steve Reich to Eno, explored more deeply over the next 30 years. And Kontakte is one of the rare seminal works of the genre available in more than one commercial recording.
Every one of the 42 cuts on these CDs is worth listening to at least once. One time through Clara Rockmore's rendition of Tchaikovsky's "Valse sentimentale" will probably hold you, but most of OHM+ is eminently repeatable. The same cannot be said of the DVD the reissue includes; some cuts (the composer interviews, mostly) are both pedestrian and uninformative. Some others, though, are almost worth buying the whole package for. Reich and Beryl Korot's Dolly (as in the cloned sheep) will not only knock your socks off artistically but make you think that replacing humans with sentient machines would not be such a bad idea. Holger Czukay's three-minute Floatspace is like a night at Burning Man on especially potent peyote. Morton Subotnick (whose Silver Apples of the Moon of 1961 was the first all-electronic album to hit the charts) shows he hasn't lost his flair with a 2004 "performance" of his 1976 hippie-light- show-worthy Sidewinder. After you've listened and watched your way through these four discs, you may feel inclined to go do a little digging among these roots for yourself. ROGER DOWNEY
The Mouse and the Mask
Is MF Doom reading me? Addled by the brain-spam of an age that sells everything, including the words in this sentence, I wrote last year in Minneapolis' City Pages, "Fans love Doom precisely because, like the Cartoon Network's Aqua Teen Hunger Force, he represents the only Dada that makes any sense in the communications age—the kind that makes no sense at all, and communicates nothing." I added, rhetorically, "No, he will not be right back after these important messages." Doom's answer comes here, amid an album-length collaboration with Aqua Teen's creators at Adult Swim and producer Danger Mouse, the guy who combined the Beatles' White Album and Jay-Z's The Black Album into 2004's The Grey Album: "Now we'll be right back after these messages," rasps the masked rapper. "Fellas grab your nut sack, chicks squeeze your breastesses." The song, "Old School," isn't Doom's and guest voice Talib Kweli's ode to media-oblivious head spins on cardboard in the park, but a nostalgia jam for Saturday morning cartoons and the violence-free bubble of babble they once provided—commercials included. Now Saturday mornings are dead, the child marketers have moved on to Myspace.com (where DangerDoom has 27,000-plus "friends"), and grown-up former Hanna-Barbera fans stay up late stoned on Adult Swim parodies. In short, Doom's laments over '70s soundtrack samples feel suddenly mainstream, an advertisement for his own greased-marble-mouth cool, with TV characters vying for their own piece. "I hate your sucky stupid metal face," yells jilted voice talent and animated soft drink Master Shake, on Doom's voice mail. "But if there is another project in the future, please keep me in mind." PETER S. SCHOLTES