Al Yankovic, ‘Genius in France’.

I am embarrassed–truly embarrassed–to admit that I have owned the Poodle Hat record for a number of years now…and apparently never really listened to the thing all the way through.  Because it was less than a week ago that I saw someone make reference to Al’s tribute to Frank Zappa, “Genius in France”, from the end of that record.  Wait, what?

Ever since my own “Al-wakening”, which came just about ten years ago from playing the Running With Scissors CD to my kids in the family car over a number of weeks and really listening to it, I have made shameless comparisons of Al’s particular musical genius to Zappa’s.  In particular, both of their “like a boss” command of absolutely any style you can imagine, and the gobsmacking artistic richness that regularly makes it into their work.  But I didn’t know about “Genius in France”.

So, I queued it up for my day driving the family car into work, and finally got my chance to really listen to Al’s tribute/pastiche to Frank Zappa.

I am not sure how I can repent enough for having missed that for so long.  So…much…Frank…in…there…

It’s not really possible to describe how much he nails it, to someone who is not already a Zappa-phile.  He even got Dweezil to play the opening guitar part, which says much for its authenticity.  Suffice it to say that if you need to reach for a single overview of Frank Zappa’s style in under ten minutes, I’m not sure you could do better than this.  (Okay, if pedantry is important, it doesn’t cover the hardcore Synclavier period or The Yellow Shark, but it does cover darn near everything else, all the way back to obvious nods to the Freak Out! record.)

And apparently, they really had to work at it, which when you consider just how good Al’s groups are in the first place, tells you much of importance about Zappa.  Randomly, when searching for the YouTube of the song itself, I ran across this informative tidbit from Al’s drummer:

“There’s a reason you’ll probably never ever hear that [played] live.”  It is no slight to Al and his team to observe, with understandable awe, that Zappa groups did deliver stuff like that live–all the time.

Well, I now have a new favorite Al song, and at the moment at least I cannot imagine what it would take to unseat that.

 

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‘Fracture’ moto perpetuo on marimba.

In the ‘things I didn’t expect to see today’ category, I just ran across a clip of the moto perpetuo section of King Crimson’s “Fracture”…played on marimba.

Sometimes it needs repeating in our crazy world:  people are awesome, and for all its annoyances, YouTube is a treasure.

Because “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic”, that’s why.

Had the family car today, which means a (vastly) better listening environment than the Jeep.  On such occasions I will frequently arrange a more intentional listening session, for the 20 mile drive to and from work.  Today, that was King Crimson’s 1973 record, Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, which I haven’t really listened to closely in some years.

Holy cow, what a triumph.  Even now, with all that has happened in music since–a notion that’s nearly incomprehensible in and of itself–the record’s ideas and experiments just drip with freshness and authority.  What it must have been like in 1973, coming nearly out of nowhere (King Crimson having been in a sort of perpetual shambles since the end of 1969) is something I can only speculate about, but for the average rock-idiom listener at least, it must have been like being hit by a truck.  I recall Robert describing it somewhere as a “leaner” and “more muscular” Crim than earlier ones, which is true enough–the raw power the band had is justifiably legendary–but boy, does that risk oversimplifying a host of nuance within the group as well.  And that nuance comes out more on the LITA record than anything which followed it.*

Just consider “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part One”.  On YouTube:

This is a simply massive statements.  (Yes, plural.  Definitely plural.)  The closer you get to it, the more carefully you listen, the more inventiveness you hear at every turn.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy.  I know that when I first heard LTIA (around 1990, I’d guess) I was by no means ready to grok all the things I can hear now, and of course there is probably still an ocean left to discover.  Other parts of the record spoke to me more immediately–“LITA Part Two” and “Easy Money” most prominently–and “LTIA Part One” was comparatively a slower burn.  Not to worry of course;  true masterpieces of art simply wait patiently until we clouded dolts make ourselves available for the experience.

Man, I love drives like that.

 

Finally, here’s YouTube live clips of Part One (with Jamie) and Part Two (without):

Because Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, that’s why.

 

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* One gets the impression, both just from listening to the music and also from reading Robert’s comments over the years, that this new edition of Crim found its voice right away (something that just as self-evidently happened with ’69 and ’81 Crims, as well), but then grew quickly into an almost self-competitive beast that shed members and eventually collapsed of its own mass.  (Maybe the KC muse was simply drunk on its own power…)  On one hand, what a shame to lose Jamie’s brilliance** so soon, and to have David essentially drowned out by the ridiculous power of the Wetton-Bruford rhythm section (Robert considered it all that he could do just to keep up)…  The flip side of course is that we got to see just how much Bill learned from working with Jamie–wow!–and what the group did manage to achieve in 1973-4 is nothing short of staggering;  for some of us at least, it’s hard to imagine more significant music than this.  It may “belong” to the rock music idiom, but there is so much more in there than just that–and that’s before considering how much of it was group-improvised…

** Want to hear something really nerdly fascinating?  Check out this clip of Jamie’s isolated track from the studio recording of “Easy Money”.  Who else would have come up with this?  Yes, this man is an artist.

Beato on Guthrie.

Was delighted to see the launch of a new series on Rick Beato’s channel, called “Inside The Sound Of”, which apparently will feature Rick digging into the stylistic nuances of a profiled player.*

One thing you gotta love about Beato:  he does not mess around with preliminaries.  For this first episode, he goes straight to the alien intelligence and superhuman repository of skill known otherwise as Guthrie Govan.**

While I must confess that I was long ago convinced of the critical importance of phrasing, in which musical lines can and should have natural pauses, commas, colons, periods, etc. (thanks Curt), this is still pure gold–one master dissecting another, in ways you can hear immediately, and covering ideas that can and should be like a new revelation every time.

Don’t know exactly where he’ll go with the series, but this is quite the beginning.  (Just because nobody asked, were I to suggest “nexts”, I’d want to see episodes on fretless bass wizard Percy Jones, banjo boy wonder Bela Fleck, and of course–duh–Robert Fripp.)

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* This isn’t necessarily new territory for him, by the way.  If you look through his catalog, you’ll find a number of treatments of featured musicians, both guitarists (e.g., Allan Holdsworth, Pat Metheny, Joe Pass, etc.) and non-guitarists (e.g., Aydin Esen), which rather fit this concept.  With this series, he’s just codifying it a bit more.

** Guthrie, if you’ve never heard of him, is inherently hard to categorize because he seems to be analogous to the legendary Jim Thorpe in terms of his ability to do just about anything.  Categorizing is primarily for specialists, and Guthrie is as close to a true generalist as anyone I’ve ever heard.  People throw around a number of names as being truly versatile guitarists, and several of those are indeed pretty convincing (e.g.,  John McLaughlin, Steve Morse, etc.), but frankly from what I’ve heard I think I’d pick Govan almost instantly as the one who can be most convincing in the most styles, while retaining his own identifiable personality at the same time.  There’s really no one quite like him.

King Crimson’s 50th anniversary.

This is intended solely as a bookmark–there is no way I could do justice to the whole topic here–for the YouTube playlist, at King Crimson’s YouTube channel, celebrating the group’s fiftieth anniversary year*.

From the notes to the first clip in the playlist:

To celebrate their 50th anniversary, King Crimson are releasing 50 rare or unusual tracks from the archives. Starting on 13th January, the date the band was formed in the Fulham Palace Café in 1969, these tracks will be released one a week for the remaining 50 weeks of 2019. Each track will be introduced by a commentary from David Singleton, King Crimson manager and producer.

Admitted fanboy that I are, I find this stuff utterly fascinating.  It will probably be less interesting to someone who doesn’t know the context, background, and history that I do, but they’re still extremely well done, and marvelous historic documents in their own right.

Given what we’ve seen thus far (at this writing, the latest release is Keith Tippett’s mesmerising isolated track from Lizard‘s “Prince Rupert Awakes”), I’m not sure I want them to stop at the end of the year!

 

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* Which of course goes back to the year in which I was born, as well.  Maybe something more than a coincidence, then, that all this should be quite that meaningful to me.

Seconds Out.

This is what happens when someone puts an important nugget (back) in(to) my head.

A few days ago, Rick Beato posted a typically amazing “What Makes This Song Great” about “Dance on a Volcano” by Genesis, and of course I had to bookmark that.  But it didn’t stop there, ha!  Now reminded anew of the immediate post-Gabriel Genesis, I figured I’d use my 20-mile trip to and from the office for a review A Trick of the Tail and/or Wind & Wuthering….except I didn’t have those synced to my phone.

I did, however, have Seconds Out.

It is difficult to overstate just how important this album was to me when I first heard it as an early teenager–and even today, looking back on everything I’ve heard since, if I were asked to declare a “best live album I’ve ever heard”, then Seconds Out would be very much in contention at the Holy Trinity level.

In 1984, having just undergone a core, fundamental change in how (and how actively) I listened to music, I had just made the conscious decision to “go backwards” and listen to the earlier discographies of both Alan Parsons and Genesis, whose brand-new records (Ammonia Avenue and Genesis, respectively) had much impressed me.  I was hungry to pursue something that caught my interest, and this was the stereotypic chance to make a critical first impression.  For Alan Parsons, based on what I’d read, I chose 1979’s Eve first, and that certainly sold me on pursuing the rest of his discography over the next few years.  For Genesis, being a bit more on the fence about where I should start, I somewhat arbitrarily chose Seconds Out, severally because 1) it was live, 2) it was a double album, 3) it seemed to cover tunes spanning several studio records, and 4) what was all this about a 24-minute song?

First impression indeed.  I was blown away, immediately.  At the time, I knew nothing–truly, nothing–about production, about what makes a great performance, about technical musicianship, about complex arrangements and time signatures, about songwriting, about the pros and cons of live vs. studio recording, about what makes a cohesive album vs. a loose collection of individual songs.  I’d only pick those things up after years of listening and learning further;  now, of course, I can articulate just how impressive this record is in all of those terms and more, but at the time, I was just beginning the journey, and had none of that to lean on.

All I knew is that it spoke to me, right down in that innermost place where I really live.  And what I find fascinating to observe, now, is that it still does.

Described in one word, the sound is massive;  played at any volume, it hits you in the chest like you’re right there, up front in a 50,000 seat stadium–even though the actual venue was a tenth that size.  This speaks both to great production, and great live sound engineering.

The performances are epic.  I’d never heard anything remotely like that before–the swirling, squealing sounds and vocal expression of Hackett’s guitar, the saturated urgency of Rutherford’s bass, Banks’ amazing chord movement and timbre selection on keys*, and of course the absolutely thunderous drumming of either or both of Phil Collins and Chester Thompson.  (At the time, I had no idea who Bill Bruford was, but noted the different style on the lone track from the previous tour;  this was an early lesson for me in being able to distinguish players by the uniqueness of their styles.)  I could hear these separate things even if I didn’t know what to call them yet, and taken together as a whole, the impact on me was simply immense.   To this day, when I mentally conjure up the sound of almost any of the compositions that appear on Seconds Out, it is the live performance that usually appears first in my head**.  (Really, it’s only “The Musical Box” that is different in that way–probably because what’s on Seconds Out is only the ending section of the much larger original piece from Nursery Cryme.)

And the songs themselves were, and remain, timeless.  Listening now, in 2019,over forty years since these songs were first given to the world, can anyone really tell that “Supper’s Ready” is from 1972, or “Dance on a Volcano” from 1976?  I was amazed to find that when I first played “Supper’s Ready”–the original Foxtrot recording–for my then eight- and six-year-old girls, they both loved it immediately.  (As in, they still request it by name two years later, without my prompting.)  Sure, growing up with me as a dad has probably given them a different sort of palette than other kids in general, but still, there is obviously something there that speaks things that people can relate to.

Anyway, I was delighted to find out, while prepping this post, that Genesis itself has made the whole record available on YouTube.  For anyone who happens by here who doesn’t already know it, do please gift yourself the introduction!

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* Tony Banks is one of the few keyboardists of his time, who I do not associate strongly with gratingly irritating, wanky synth timbres.  Oh, even he nearly lost me a few times here and there, but he remains, historically at least, probably my favorite electronic keyboard player.

** I don’t think it’s fair for me to say, of any of the Gabriel-era compositions, that I prefer the original recording, or any of the live variants (Gabriel- or Collins-led) that followed it.  In my artistic world, words like “prefer”, “favorite”, and “best” usually either have no meaning at all, or are useful at a far more granular level than that of an entire recorded piece, live or otherwise.  After all, one of the great pleasures of art is that the primary appreciative conjunction is and, not or.  To wit:

“Led Zeppelin or John Coltrane?  Robert Fripp or Michael Hedges?  Django Reinhardt or Frank Zappa?  Queen or Ravel?”

(wrinkles nose) “‘Or‘?  What is this ‘or‘ of which you speak?”

 

Failure to Fracture.

Okay, my brain seems to recall running into this “Failure to Fracture” title some years ago now, but by accident I ran across a reference to it today, and after taking a peek–oh heck yeah, that’s going to need a bookmark!

So, there’s this Anthony Garone character from the YouTube channel Make Weird Music, which I know I’ve seen before (I believe it was the episode on Michael Manring’s “Hyperbass”), and what caught my eye was a new clip titled “Fracture is impossible to play” Failure to Fracture, Ep. 6, with a likeness of Robert stating those words in 2016.  Well…each of us has a personal limit to our effective girding against clickbait, and of course for me this sailed right through that like neutronium through interstellar gas.

Interesting indeed, and hence this bookmark.  The series playlist seems a little disorganized to me, but I don’t know that story;  anyway, here’s a link starting with the “Episode 0 – Introduction” clip.

Of significant interest is that he spends over half an hour talking with Crafty Alex Anthony Faide about the topic, which is just fascinating on so many levels.

Yeah, Make Weird Music just earned itself another subscription.  🙂