Dirty Three

Sad and Dangerous(Poon Village 1995)

http://www.mediafire.com/?1ymnoimyyjd

The title of the Dirty Three’s debut album is an apt declaration of what was accomplished here. There is something elegant and anguished at work here being performed by a trio who was simultaneously masterful and rough around the edges. They were a bit of a paradox at the outset before they sanded away some of the jagged edges into a more streamlined and contoured unit. I do love all of the albums that followed, but Sad and Dangerous is forceful, direct and embraces its imperfections and outbursts where subsequent releases just aimed for a musical approximation of loneliness, regret and despair. Worthwhile pursuits to be sure, but this one was full of piss and vinegar too and it’s essence is a prickly and difficult beast.

Culled from a demo cassette recorded in 1992-1993, Sad and Dangerous captures the brilliant beginnings of a trio exploring the parameters of what was possible in an instrumental rock band with  violinist Warren Ellis as its centerpiece underpinned by an understated, but at times ferocious combo of guitarist Mick Turner and drummer Mick White. Their occasional swan dives into dissonance aren’t surprising since Turner and White previously played in the abrasive punk band Venom P. Stinger in the 80s. Other times, White and Turner sound like a stumbling drunk Grant Green jazz session only to rein themselves into a more mellow throb and strum that wouldn’t sound out of place on some forgotten 70s pastoral psych jam. They are the engine that drives this locomotive down its wayward and winding road and really fill in the background with some gorgeous and visceral melodies and brash and brutal stabs of noise that set a grand stage for Warren Ellis to glorify and mangle all that is good and great about the violin.

If Turner and White were responsible for painting the background of the canvas, Warren Ellis’s bold and vivid brushstrokes were splattered all over the foreground as he rightfully claimed the spotlight on both their recorded work and revelatory live performances. I remember seeing them on their first American tour and still remember the magical feeling during the opening strains of “Kim’s Dirt” as I realized within a few minutes that this was going to be one of those performances that forcefully suck you into the immediacy of the moment and are struck by the epiphany that you are witnessing greatness as it occurs. Yeah, Ellis’ drunken banter and rambunctious stage presence got everyone’s attention pretty quickly, but there was something truly romantic and vast about the melodies that emanated from his instrument. It swallowed you whole and conjured memories both ecstatic and romantic as well as troubled and tragic as each swell of sound gathered you in the palm of its hand like an impressionable child. It was a truly moving experience that was full of humor, drama, fuck-ups and true suspense which are incredibly rare qualities in a live or recorded event. Now, it was a bit disappointing when I traveled to see them a second and third time only to see Ellis use the same stories and schtick, but I refused to let it debase the purity of the first time I saw them perform.

Sad and Dangerous fittingly begins with the best moment of the career “Kim’s Dirt”, which is ironically not even written by the band, but by Kim Salmon of the equally brilliant Australian band, the Scientists. It encapsulates everything that is special about the band into a single ten-minute epic. The voyage begins with a deceptively simple and minimal guitar riff that gracefully putters along until Ellis breaks out the waterworks and delivers his best performance as he literally wrings every ounce of emotion out of each pull of the bow. It slowly builds and builds upon this pattern until they ever so gradually pick up the pace to hypnotic trot that continuously threatens to break into a sprint, but never does so in favor of a precarious control over a melody that threatens to topple over at any moment. “Devil in the Hole” is notable because it delves into chaos and clatter as an accompaniment and reveals a side of the band that should’ve been explored again, but rarely ever was. “You Were a Bum Dream” could almost be from the heyday of the 4ad or ECM labels due to its ethereal and ghostly ambiance and kind of foreshadows Ellis’ later career scoring such films as The Proposition and The Assassination of Jesse James. It is fitting that Sad and Dangerous’ closer is as abstract and difficult as its opening is warm and inviting as “Turk” buries its beauty under a swath of drones and feedback as if the band was not content with attaining beauty, but was interested in its seedy underbelly. I miss this side of the Dirty Three and wish they’d revel in the tatters and shards again for a little while. However, Sad and Dangerous is a reminder of when they were unsure of which way was up and the music was all the more powerful for it.

 

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Meredith Monk-Facing North

September 14, 2008

Meredith Monk with Robert Een

Facing Norh (ECM 1992)

http://www.mediafire.com/?0uxdfn4s2mz

Although I now classify myself as an agnostic, thirteen years of Catholic schooling and four spent as an altar boy instill a love of the hushed reverence of the Catholic mass. From the scent of incense rattling around the burning thurible to the towering candles, I was a born sucker for the rituals and the choral works that pervaded my Sundays. I was never one for the sermons, but the hymns always kept me coming back throughout my childhood. I still find myself humming many of them and reliving those moments where the entire neighborhood joined together in song. There was a communal, ritualistic aspect of it which spoke to me even when I realized that the tenets of Catholicism weren’t going to jive with my emerging beliefs.

Obviously, music has played a major role in my upbringing and everyday existence, otherwise I wouldn’t feel compelled to spend my free time penning these pieces. Looking back, I feel as if many of my favorite albums hearken back to the ethereal choruses of my Catholic upbringing. Since I no longer found solace in Catholicism, I searched out secular music that tapped into the mysticism and ritual that appealed to me as a child. Therefore, there has been much time spent listening to Arvo Part, John Tavener, Cocteau Twins and Lisa Gerrard in an attempt to tap into the parts of mass that I loved as a child.

Recently, I have revisited the music of Meredith Monk and feel as if her 1992 album Facing North achieves that same sense of the sublime. I bought in a cut-out bin ten years ago and dismissed it as a bunch of wanky vocal acrobatics and smarmy artsy-farsty twaddle. However, I thought the Meatmen and Killdozer were pretty swell at time and probably wasn’t in a mood for self-reflection at that time in my life.

Facing North was inspired by her time spent in rural Canada during the most dark and frigid months of winter. Her inspiration comes through in the minimal nature of her work and one gets a feeling of isolation, detachment and a touch of madness after listening to the entire album. Monk is best known for her ability to manipulate her voice in unbelievable ways, but Facing North sees her toning down her act for a more restrained approach. The results are so goddamn gorgeous, occasionally ridiculous, but always riveting in its single-mindedness. Facing North reminds me of an absurd and playful version of the choirs of my youth and takes me back to time when I believed and sang my little heart out in praise of something larger than myself.

Susanne Abbuehl

April (ECM 2001)

http://www.sendspace.com/file/w9tewq

I sometimes think that the sentimental, sappy side of personality is what causes me to love every release on the ECM label. Yes, some of their 70s output was fresh, confrontational and new, but their overall output is so minimal and pleasant that I feel as if I’ve been brainwashed through constant exposure. How did a label responsible for Bernie Maupin’s Jewel in the Lotus and Julian Priester’s Love, Love give rise to some of Keith Jarrett’s snooze-a-paloozas? The sick shit is that I own a few Keith Jarrett albums. I have a problem. Don’t even get me started on my fanaticism about Meredith Monk. I play these records for people and its like I’m arguing that cocktail wieners or a box of nerds are as special as a truffle.

Thankfully, my addiction is easily sated since it’s relatively easy to find recent ECM releases in local budget bins. I even felt a lame rush of excitement when I found a vinyl copy of Don Cherry’s Codona the other day. Therefore, I get to discover gems like Susanne Abbuehl’s April and share them with my limited readership.

Susanne Abbuehl is a Swiss/Dutch singer and composer who has studied Indian classical music and recorded two albums for the ECM label. April is her debut and it includes a revamp of “Round Midnight” and a few Carla Bley tunes as well as a curious hybrid of cocktail jazz and a raga. On the surface, Abbuehl’s voice could woo your casual fan of Norah Jones or Diana Krall, but there is something far more sophisticated at work here. Her backing band plays so gently and minimally that there are no crescendos or climaxes to be found. The end result is a slow burning, sensual jazz vocal album that is stunning in its own subtle way. I guess it’s a bit of an aural bubblebath complete with stinky candles, but sometimes a fellow has treat himself like he’s got some class.