Various Artists(Compiled by David Toop)

Ocean of Sound (Virgin UK 1996)

links are down, but will be reposted tomorrow.

Although it sometimes spends too much time sniffing its own arse, The Wire, a British magazine, has helped turn me on to new horizons during the thirteen years I have read its pontifications. Yes, I could do without its testimonials to grime and its ill-fated interludes with post-rock, but no current magazine delves into the nitty gritty of oddball musics like they do. Although he doesn’t seem to write for them anymore, David Toop’s meanderings on music warped my mind in new directions. To be honest, I read them now and find less to love, but his articles and book Ocean of Sound provided the context for why I found whirrs, buzzes and drones to be such a wonderland. In 1996, Toop wrote a book entitled Ocean of Sound which attempted to trace the history of ambient music as well as the motivations behind those who devoted themselves to its creation. He touched on Satie, Terry Riley, Eno and Aphex Twin and how supposed background music became an artform. I still kind of dig this book, but years have hardened me and I no longer have the same bright-eyed and bushy-tailed look as I read the words. However, this book really gave my musical loves a sense of place. It connected dots and made sense of things that my young mind didn’t grasp until then.

A double cd was released in conjunction with book and I’ll be damned if there isn’t a better compendium of music to correlate with the book’s explorations of the ability of music to create an atmosphere. Now the book and compilation do not limit themselves to mellow bubbles and chirps since Peter Brotzmann and Ornette Coleman play a role as well as My Bloody Valentine and Jon Hassell. I love the diversity of this collection because its field recordings of howler monkeys and rain songs just melt into the more austere terrain of Harold Budd. At heart, it is just an excellent mix tape devoted to the power of sound by a man who put all of his love into each selection.

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.