Myra Melford and Hans Bennink

Eleven Ghosts (Hatology 1994)

Myra Melford is an adventurous jazz pianist who has collaborated with Henry Threadgill, Butch Morris and Dave Douglas while leading her own troupes on a series of albums. Hans Bennink may be one of the most adventurous and creative drummers of the past 40 years. He’s worked with Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Eric Dolphy, The Ex, Derek Bailey, Don Cherry, Peter Brotzmann among many others. Bennink is a drummer who has always been adept at straddling the line between playfulness and ferocity. It is only fitting that these two souls should collaborate on album that makes free jazz somehow delightful and accessible. I love free jazz, but this may be one of the most fun examples of the genre that I’ve heard. If your ears shut themselves off at the mere mention of free jazz, then check this one out since it is alternately absurd, avant-garde and a ray of sunshine. Eleven Ghosts somehow puts a smile on my face even though it is a bit impenetrable at times.

I’m posting this album because it contains one of those moments that reaffirm my faith in music as an uplifting force in my life. These two musicians tackle Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” and turn it inside out and make this ragtime classic into something entirely their own. Melford vamps the timeless chords in an unfamiliar way while Bennink utilizes his bag of rhythmic tricks, bells and whistles to create a entirely new work that alternates between explosiveness and familiarity. It is a fitting finale to an excellent album that properly showcases what these two musicians are capable of in the company of one another.

Pale Saints

The Comforts of Madness (4ad 1990)

From the first moment I heard the angelic choirboy voice of Ian Masters, I was hooked. I’ve followed his circuitous career and always was surprised that more folks haven’t come to appreciate his more spartan, ethereal work as Spoonfed Hybrid and ESP Summer. However, none of these projects ever compared to the brilliance of his work on The Comforts of Madness. His influence on the band is made even more clear by the blandness of Slow Buildings, the album they recorded without him. In fact, the followup to The Comforts of Madness, In Ribbons, is a lesser work because Masters was disenchanted with the poppy direction of the band and pressures to tour outside of England. However, their debut was entirely Masters’ platform and it resulted in one of 4ad’s best albums.

The Comforts of Madness is definitely influenced by Galaxie 500, Jesus and Mary Chain, AR Kane and My Bloody Valentine, but Masters’ songs are much more delicate and fragile despite the swells of feedback that propel some songs. They also set themselves apart from their peers in the shoegaze scene with their sudden shifts in tempo and mood within each song. Plus, it kind of sounds like a member of the Vienna Boys Choir tinkering with twee and shoegaze by writing complex, but odd pop songs with tape loops and almost subliminal samples. They even cover Opal’s “Fell From the Sun” and improve on the original by lending it a graceful quality lacking from the original. It’s a thoroughly 4ad take on an American gem. I could listen to Masters coo the alphabet and be a happy man, so I may be biased in my praise of this vastly underrated album.