JANDEK – “Houston Saturday (2011)” – Album Review

HOUSTON SATURDAY (2011)

Artist – JANDEK

Corwood Industries (0815)

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More Jandek? Click >>>>song-of-morgan/maze-of-the-phantom/houston-saturday

 

Authored by Dale Nickey:

In the world of real estate it’s all about “location, location, location”. In the world of Outsider Music the corollary would be, “perception, perception, perception”.

Jandek has just released a new album titled, “Houston Saturday (2011)”. If this sounds familiar, it should.  Earlier in the year, Jandek released a live album, “Houston Saturday”. Two entirely different animals. Jandek doesn’t like to make it easy, does he?

“Houston Saturday (2011)” is the album this reviewer has pined for.  It’s a live album recorded at the Menil Collection on December 17th, 2011. A no-nonsense brace of tunes with only acoustic guitar and voice (save the spoken word opener). This new record has the feel of an intimate studio recording. Indeed, the audience is eerily silent until long, sustained applause is heard after the final song. The sound is big, warm and round. It’s probably the best recorded acoustic guitar sound  The Representative has ever committed to record.

The album is a swift moving song cycle devoted to love – both requited and un-requited. And, the perspective is from either a devoted lover, ex-lover, secret admirer and/or stalker. Maybe all the above.  Jandek’s patented death letter blues are refreshingly absent from this record. Although, I do admit to picturing (at certain points) a bound and gagged love object listening wide-eyed and terrified to her captor’s heartfelt balladeering.   http://corwoodindustries.com/

One can glean from the lyrics that The Representative likes to walk. It’s hard to imagine him driving or taking public transportation. He evokes the image of a black-clad wandering troubadour of the pre-apocalypse, head up, cataloging raw emotions and all else that resides above the horizon; trees, sky, buildings etc…..

Which brings me back to the subject of perception. It’s amazing how the unfamiliar can become familiar. After two years of listening and writing about Outsider Music in general (and Jandek in particular), perception and perspective seem to calibrate and shift as a defense mechanism against insanity. I can now listen to Jandek with an unbiased ear, conversely, the James Blunts of the world now send me screaming into the night.

Just think about the B-52’s for a second. Remember how off-the-wall they sounded when their first single, “Rock Lobster” came out?  The template consisted of shrieking female singers, 35 dollar keyboard sounds, a gay tone-deaf toastmaster and twig-dry electric guitars with no bass. That sound eventually bled into the mainstream and yielded platinum sales and MTV ubiquity. Similarly, one could easily imagine (early 20th century blues artist) Charlie Patton as “The Jandek” of his time and place.

The performances on “Houston Saturday (2011)” are surefooted and classic Jandek. There has been an evolution. Some of the tunes are more composed than others. Clearly, Jandek still likes to walk the high-wire and extrapolate lyrics on the fly when the spirit moves him.

I’m wondering how musicologist Harry Smith (curator of The American Folk Anthology) felt upon discovering the creepy-crawly backwater roots of the genre we now call American Folk Music. Maybe he felt like I feel when I listen to “Houston Saturday (2011)”. I feel like I’ve plunged my shovel into the earth and hit the slab foundation for a new traditional music; a distant future’s new “Old Weird America”.

Wouldn’t that be something?

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To Visit the Corwood Industries catalog click >>>>>  http://corwoodindustries.com/

 

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JANDEK – “Athens Saturday” (Album Review)

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Athens Saturday – (Corwood Industries-0812)

Track Listing: “Waiting to Die” – Is divided into two sections:

Disc One 52:07 and Disc Two 50:07

Recorded live at Orange Twin Conservation Community, Athens, Georgia    28 July 2012    

Authored by Dale Nickey:

Pouring over a Jandek album now seems less like a forensic investigation than a study in micro-evolution. We now know who the man  is and his proximity to mortality. The specter of death is addressed directly or subliminally in much of his work. This is not a recent development. It certainly crept into his earlier work (see “I Knew You Would Leave” from the album Six and Six). Now, the death narrative is up-close and personal. That being said, “Athens Saturday” is not a bleak exercise. In fact, the textures and ambiance suggest a slow upward migration to light and air.

One thing we can say in the affirmative about Jandek’s art and methodology, he’s not a lazy musician. Also, he has become a distance runner. The track times have become longer on his songs. “Athens Saturday” is a live 2CD set. And both CDs contain one extended piece. One is tempted to interpret this as Jandek’s desire to expand time. I think any 68 year old person would want to do that. And, like most musicians, he no doubt feels safe and invulnerable during the act of creation. You know your time will come, but not while you’re on stage or recording a take.

Jandek shifts a lot of soil to find his golden nuggets of artistic nirvana. This has always been the case with Jandek’s music. The listener’s persistence must match that of the artist to be properly rewarded. However on “Athens Saturday”, the gold to soil ratio weighs heavily in Jandek’s favor. “Athens Saturday” sparkles throughout. This is due as much to Jandek’s remarkable backing ensemble as the man himself. Musician credits are anathema to any Corwood release; so I am left to guess the ensemble format The Representative employed for Athens Saturday. However, I am sure there is a cello and an electrified violin in the mix. The cello provides a slow legato adhesive to the arrangements. Whoever is playing the electric violin is a remarkable musician as regards the use of tone and texture. At many junctures the instruments blend into a unique entity.  Jandek himself turns in a career performance on piano and vocals. And, somewhere I hear a synthesizer in the mix, as well as percussion.  The piano work is delicate and controlled; echoing his gargantuan nine volume piano workout, “The Song of Morgan”. The Artist’s vocal parts are still in the realm of spoken word. However, at certain points Jandek sticks his big toe into the pool of conventional pitch singing. There is a wispy tonality I have yet to hear on his other works. The best comparison would be some of Laurie Anderson’s more accessible and comforting verbalizing from her “United States” period. http://corwoodindustries.com/

It’s not all silk and creamy center. There are interludes where the intensity of the moment combined with the string section’s more keening timbers, disturb the peace. However, these moments are few and far between. Assailable moments on “Athens Saturday” are difficult to find.

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What follows is commentary on the music found on Athens Saturday (times are approximate):

Disc One – Opens with what sounds like a bass clarinet, a trumpet sound blends in and soon morphs into an electronically treated violin. Jandek himself contributes some very restrained piano. There is a shimmering synthetic wash in the background. The motifs are slow, legato notes sustained and interweaving. At 5:00 minutes some percussive rumbling in the deep background occurs. And the violin starts to engage in some textured dissonance.  At 8:00 minutes some very mellow and pleasing electronics creep into the landscape. The shimmering sine wave from earlier in the piece reappears as well as a tremolo effect from some unknown instrument. The Representative may be creating his keyboard sound with a digital module because suddenly the timbre of his piano work sounds electric with some celeste overtones. The mysterious thump of a bass drum still issues intermittent reports from the depths of the background mix.

At 8:50 Jandek’s voice appears. Soft and muffled.   At 10:38 Jandek intones:

“Let’s go for a swim……I can’t wait for the shift to end.”

The overall effect of the piece strikes me as coming from the perspective of someone suffering a fever. One of those consciousness blurring fevers where the dream state and the waking state co-mingle in a repetitive mundane madness. The speaker may be a caregiver or even the mother breaking through to fog of dementia. Maybe none of this is true. But, the textures and mood of the piece are so evocative and persistent that your brain starts working from that vantage point. The violin starts asserting itself more forcefully in the mix. ‘Sawing’ tones that are electronically processed.

At 13:20 Jandek intones:

“Wait, it’s summertime, let’s lay in the tall grass….(unintelligible) We can have a picnic. Did you see that great movie?”

Then, “Oh, I love being here with you. Sex, drugs, alcohol, friends, dogs and me……”

I’m guessing that Jandek is free associating lyrically.  The puzzling monolouge continues.  His piano figures are as sticky and delicate as cotton candy and are accompanied by the constant sawing of the string section. The low register instrument is an ominous presence that vacillates between sounding like a bass clarinet and a cello. So static and repetitive is the mood, any minute variation takes on magnified significance.

At about twenty minutes the landscape quiets down to almost nothing.  Jandek  finds himself in a question and answer session with himself. With the most revealing exchange being:

“Don’t you know how to live?’  

“No, not really…..”  

“What do you know how to do?”  

“I know how to die….living is dying”

The accompanying music seems to have found a quietude to match these very private ruminations. Fluty, echoed tones with Bartok inspired noodling in the lower end of the piano.   At 27:00 we have water music. Shimmering, deep, translucent tones. Jandek continues to verbalize atonally. The instrumentation has congealed into a third entity. A wash of sound. Very reminiscent of Brian Eno’s “No Pussyfooting” era.

As we approach 30:00 the instrumentation suddenly subsides -as if on cue- to a very faint electronic ripple with some nuanced string harmonics. The Representative takes the reigns with some and barely audible piano filagre.   At 33:15 there is near silence as Jandek starts making a more aggressive (but still restrained) statement with some chord based piano improvisations. He suddenly switches his piano setting to a more electronic sound as he begins to describe the joys of a summer picnic. It’s all first person narrative in present tense, like he’s describing remembered images as his life is passing before his eyes while dying. A happy time described by an unhappy man. Black and white (mind’s eye) Polaroids from days of future past. Again we hear phantom drums, barely audible but increasingly frequent. 41:00 minutes into the piece, the improvisations are more adventurous and atmospheric. Jandek’s vocalizations appear and recede intermittently. His voice is calm and soothing.   At this juncture the violinist finally seems to have run out of ideas and is sawing pointlessly. Jandek free associates lyrics and contributes some absent minded piano figures. Minutes 43:00 to 47:00 is the least eventful and inspired period of this side. At about 48:00  The Artist seems to have regained his improvisational footing with some nice upper register tinkling with a more electric sound. The subject of dying is broached yet again. At fifty minutes, Jandek cuts loose with some nice Argent style electric piano runs. The meandering suddenly abates with side one’s final words:

“Now you understand”……  

Disc Two – A continuation of the piece heard on disc one, with somebody imploring “…take a nap”. The narrator then announces they are going to Morocco. Synthesized calliope sounds enter and remind me of an old fashioned analog synth sequencer.  Jandek carries on with an imagined dialog in a voice that sounds considerably younger than his years. There is no menace in his voice.  At 06:00 the sparkly synth textures recede into the background and the violin takes over with some fairly unremarkable, mournful riffing.   The interior monologue continues with some discreet percussion. And, at 09:15 Jandek describes:

“Shiny blue day with a touch of gray”  

A short while later, Jandek describes a fantasy involving two knights (black vs. white) squaring off in a battle to the death. Perhaps a subconscious description of the battle between good and evil that resides in all of us? All the while, the accompanying music is perfectly and appropriately dreamy. Soon after the knight’s battle scene, Jandek speaks the words:

“It was just a matter of time”

The word “time” melts into the music and slowly falls into a swirl of tone and color.  The event lasts all of five seconds, but it’s the most remarkable example of musical synchronicity that I have ever heard in a live performance.  At 13:00, Jandek introduces some very editorial and staccato piano figures. This shifts the mood entirely from the medieval murk of the knight smack-down to upbeat, mundane chatter regarding the location of books, napkins and a mysterious tent. The mention of the mysterious tent coincides with some spooky, echoed violin riffs. And, I’m struck at this point how lyric and music seem to be driving each other in divine inspiration.

At 18:30 we find ourselves in the updraft of a very playful musical swell. At 21:00 minutes Jandek describes black snakes slithering into a body of water. One is obviously tempted to interpret this as his ‘hellhound on my trail’ moment. And, indeed that might be true; because talk turns away from napkins and books to the description of a cat biting an arm off, and an unknown bystander getting hit by a car. This darkening turn is appropriately back-dropped by murk and menace in the music culminating in the words:

“Maybe you just stop breathing someday, and fall down, and don’t get up.”  

“No matter how hard they try to get you up, you can’t see them.”  

The above words are followed by a static musical drone that strongly evokes the rhythmic repetition of a train on a railroad track. The long black train?   At 34:00 minutes we emerge from musical darkness with some sprite piano work that has an obvious umbilical link to “The Song of Morgan”.  The mood shifts yet again to happier images of boat rides, carnivals, beer, martinis and baseball. It seems like Jandek is dating himself back to the summer of his life. Perhaps all the way back to his pre-adolescent self memorialized in the cover photo of the album, “The Song of Morgan”.  The music to these remembrances (real or imagined) is appropriately melancholic. Descriptions of time and events residing firmly in the past. Indeed, at 39:00  Jandek kills the nostalgia buzz with the words:

“But wait!” It’s too late for all these things”  

At 40:00 a dark, distant, bass drum thunders like a far off storm approaching. The remembrances still flow but turn darker and less optimistic, at 43:00:

“Not now, Not on Sunday afternoon.”  

“Maybe tomorrow there will be something to do. Something worthwhile……  

…..like getting wet with rain.”  

The last few minutes of side two meander. Dreamy, spacy, surreal, like floating down some existential stream. Jandek saves his best for last, uttering his final words:

“TIME, THE END OF ALL HIS DAYS WAS STARING HIM IN HIS FACE.   AND HE SIMPLY COULD NOT LOOK AWAY”

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“Athens Saturday” is a live album. However, live albums in Jandekland do not serve the same function as live albums in the commercial music world. Live albums in Pop and Rock are generally contractual obligation releases, or a consolidation-restatement of an artist’s classic repertoire, or time filler between studio releases. Jandek’s live albums do not document or memorialize an accumulated repertoire. They are simply part of the creative continuum. As an alternative to studio recordings; Jandek’s live albums are field recordings of new music. The live-performance dynamic provides a different angle and energy source that informs the artist’s intuition and muse.

“Athens Saturday” is an audacious and remarkable work. Whereas “Houston Saturday” employed dissonance and discord that evoked comparisons to Jackson Pollock, “Athens Saturday” is expansively cinematic, and brings to mind Fellini  at his most eerie. In the foreground is Jandek’s childlike uber-realism juxtaposed against the misty, shape-shifting, alien landscapes of the music.

If  Jandek’s goal is to stay out front of us and confound us, he has succeeded with “Athens Saturday”. Once art becomes defined or quantified, it starts to wither on the vine. Jandek’s art continues to be living art. It must never learn how to die.

With “Athens Saturday”, Jandek can sit tall in the saddle and finally stake credible claim to the epithet …… genius.

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To buy Jandek click here >>>>>>http://corwoodindustries.com/

 

JANDEK – “Houston Saturday” (Album Review)

Authored by Dale Nickey:

More Jandek? click>>>>>song-of-morgan/maze-of-the-phantom https://themusepatrol.com/2015/12/05/jandek-on-dvd-houston-thursday/

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Jandek – “Houston Saturday (I know I’m Alive)”

Corwood Industries (0813)

Recorded Live at the Free Press Summer Fest June 1, 2013   

With Jandek’s last studio release, “The Song of Morgan” in my rear view mirror, I didn’t foresee any immediate Jandek activity on the horizon. Then, along comes the always unassuming parcel from Corwood Industries. Hand printed mailing label in legible sharpie script and old school postage stamps in lieu of dated, metered business indicia.

Jandek’s last studio album was 2013’s “The Song Of Morgan”, a nine CD box set of piano nocturnes; a WTF?-a-thon of truly epic proportions.  Jandek followed up with a live double CD,  “Athens Saturday” -which I have yet to hear.  Now we have “Houston Saturday”, a live album recorded in front of a hometown audience.         http://corwoodindustries.com/

“Houston Saturday” is a scant 35:17 in length with only one track listed, the lead and closing song “Excited”.  The cover finds our hero descending a stone staircase leading to nowhere but a grassy knoll.  Jandek is in full beard and sporting an Ozzie Nelson cardigan and his now familiar black hat. His face gives nothing away. He may be amused or ready to come at the camera fists flying.

The music on “Houston Saturday” was recorded live June 1, 2013 at the Free Press Summer Fest.  Not only is the sole track on the album titled, “Excited”,  I also discover printed on the back cover of “Houston Saturday” the subtitle – “I know I’m Alive”.  The words “I Know I’m Alive” may be some tacit acknowledgment of his ever growing indie iconography; or perhaps his mortality. Just a guess.

The piece starts with a brief drum solo, a good drum solo. Not by Jandek presumably, as musician credits are still verboten on all Corwood releases. However, my engineer’s ear tells me there is a serious attempt at sonic integrity with this recording.  Jandek has got himself a damn good rhythm section. Good thing,  because we’ve got a thirty five minute stretch of road ahead with no stopping for snacks or bathroom breaks.

The man himself crashes his own party about thirty seconds in. The guitar sound is full and gritty. It sits well in the mix.  Jandek seems in tune with himself (if nobody else).  When listening to Jandek free associate at top volume it helps to think of Jandek’s guitar as a percussion instrument. Jandek has distilled his artistry into something very minimal and highly concentrated.  There are  no discernible melodies or recognizable chords in evidence,  but he does know rhythm.  I can’t dismiss the work of an artist who’s been plowing his furrow for 35 years. On “Houston Saturday” he’s dredging up something from a very deep (perhaps toxic) well.  It might be slimy and partially decomposed.  But then again, it might be a clue to something important or have some other psychoanalytic relevance.

For me, this is loud music meant to be played at low volume.  There’s an inner logic to Jandek’s improvisations; a tangled symmetry to the seemingly random brushstrokes he applies to the ensemble sound.  To carry the painting analogy one step further, we celebrate visual artists such as Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline; artists  who trade in chaotic, non-representative images on canvas. However the public and music critics are much less forgiving of those who do it in sound.  Indeed, the Pollock/Jandek nexus makes more sense the more I think about it.

At 3:35 Jandek introduces his signature moaning calf vocals. Jandek skates the boundary between singing and spoken word. His voice is strong, commanding and intimidating.

“Can’t sleep, can’t stay awake,

Can’t get down, can’t get up…., I’m so excited……”

At 06:57:  “…You come around, you go away, you’re here …..I’m dreaming……”

In a group format, Jandek  pushes his rhythm section to places they might never think to go themselves. The middle section of “Excited” is a swirl of poly-rhythm courtesy of Jandek’s gifted bass and drums tag team.  Jandek interjects himself into the mix with stabbing urgency.

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The cacophony breaks down at 23:30 to some very delicate down- low improv from the rhythm section.  At this juncture Jandek gives his guitar a rest and unfurls a bass n’ drums framed  litany of misery. Perhaps this is his “State of the Jandek Speech’. All I know is, he started out the album declaring his excitement.  However, by track’s end he sounds more agitated than anything else.  There seem to be issues of crippling isolation and/or abandonment.  Its unclear whether he’s personally aggrieved or emotionally removed.  He does describe an elusive other person who can’t be touched, seen or felt.  It’s as if Jandek had suffered a coma and is now describing the state of half consciousness many have claimed to experience while in that condition.

“I can’t think, I can’t feel…..I’m upset (obsessed?), that’s what’s real….”

This stream of consciousness rant builds and continues to the very end.   Finally,  Jandek projectile orates his closing thought on this Houston Saturday:

“I’m using you to stay alive….

Please use me too…..be my obsession and I’ll be yours“.

The piece collapses to the floor in conclusion. The audience in attendance gives a lusty ovation and a few shouts of ‘more!’ are heard. This was a good day apparently.

I’m not here to declare “Excited” a work of genius. The piece is a musical exploration as involving or off-putting as any Steve Vai guitar workout. Jandek goes to some interesting places musically and also loses the plot occasionally. Such are the pitfalls of live, improvised music. Whereas your standard issue guitar hero will flub high speed execution of chords and intricate fingering, Jandek’s musical missteps seem more existential than technical.  Oh, how I wish to see Jandek collaborate with a sympathetic producer/engineer with the surgical skills to cut and paste Jandek’s meanderings into a compacted musical statement.  Jandek has given us over seventy releases of unfiltered id.  A Jandek redacted and edited for the masses would be an interesting paradigm shift; one that might actually move a few units.

After the musical advances of “Maze of The Phantom” and “The Song of Morgan”,  Jandek has returned to the  sound and fury of his second period.  Is Jandek simply throwing red meat to an adoring hometown crowd?  One hopes this is just a temporary lateral move.

Jandek’s time may have come as an indie icon. Kurt Cobain famously declared that anybody who likes Jandek’s music is pretentious.  I reject that theory. Jandek’s music is a legitimate palette cleanser to those of us who feel moved to violence upon the 10,000th hearing of Elton’s John’s  “Candle In the Wind”. I don’t want Jandek to put out another “Song Of Morgan”. But next time out, I do want him to throw me an existential curve-ball, high and tight…. aimed at my head.

Click Here to buy Jandek music>>>http://corwoodindustries.com/

80’s Bands Time Forgot (Spotlight) – BEAST OF BEAST

Authored by Dale Nickey:

Beast Of Beast (Sex Drugs And Noise) 1982

Vocallist/Songwriter/Chanteuse Virginia Macolino paid her L.A. dues in spades.  While leading the Prog-Punk outfit Virginia And The Slims through an 18 month club slog,  she was poached by Orange County Euro-pop wanna-bees Berlin….. Not allowed to write for that group, she got fed up after recording one album and left the band only months before Berlin became international stars.  Her answer was to take back control of her muse and form the band Beast Of Beast.  The frustration she endured in her previous bands found expression in the spleen venting debut EP – “Sex Drugs and Noise”.  Dame’ Macolino’s ‘Persian cat on a hot tin roof ‘ growl paired perfectly with the serrated edge scrapings of  guitarist Roy Felig.  On the vanguard of noise-pop before it became mainstream; “Sex Drugs and Noise” carries a hefty price tag on the collectible vinyl market.

Jandek – “The Song Of Morgan” (Album Review)

Authored by: Dale Nickey
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Jandek – “The Song Of Morgan” (2013)

Corwood Industries – 0811

“Nocturne (noun) (French: “Nocturnal”), in music, a composition inspired by, or evocative of, the night, and cultivated in the 19th century primarily as a character piece for piano.” From Encyclopedia Britannica

I committed to reviewing Jandek’s latest album. “The Song Of Morgan”, a nine CD box set. Corwood Industries confirms that this is an entirely new work.   “The Song of Morgan” is an album of piano nocturnes;, nine of them, one continuous hour-long piece per CD. I don’t know how you go about reviewing something like this. It took two hours just to transfer the damn thing into my IPOD.

The artwork on the box set “The Song of Morgan” is as sparse and minimal as the music is expansive and plentiful. The cover photo is clearly the artist we have seen on previous albums. However, this year’s Jandek looks like a school boy no older than 9 or 10. The box houses simple cardboard sleeves for each of the nine CD’s with the simple track designations –  “Nocturne 1” and so forth. You didn’t really think a booklet would be included did you? Is the cover photo some oblique reference to Dorian Gray? Has Jandek recaptured some childlike innocence lost? Was he taking piano lessons at this age? Is the pre-pubescent Jandek we see on the photo the link to the classically influenced noodling we find on “The Song of Morgan”? Or is it just a ringer to throw us off the scent?  All questions we love to ask but don’t really want answered. At $32.00 the collection feels like value for the money. And, for those invested in Jandek futures, it’s collectability seems assured.

I know of no other artist who has issued a new work of this length. Without liner notes or one-sheet, I get to turn my imagination loose. However, two main questions about Jandek continue to hang in the air and should be restated and addressed. Because in the genre of Outsider Music, context and preamble mean everything.

First, let’s discuss the secrecy surrounding Jandek. The party line of Jandek scholarship holds that the person that is Jandek is a stubborn, hermetic, iconoclast who is cultivating anonymity purposely. The intent of this policy is unclear. It could be a pathological thirst for privacy. Or the representative is maybe offering a clever variation of the “hot chick theory” which states the more you ignore your admirers, the more desirable you become. Or was he sage enough to realize that when you make music this un-commercial, mystique is the best trump card you’ve got in the deck?

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As Jandek’s music has evolved so has his celebrity. I think journalists are more obsessed with preserving Jandek’s anonymity than Jandek is. The last decade finds Jandek playing live. YouTube footage finds the artist walking, talking, sitting in radio studios jamming. I think the artist we presume to be Jandek has bid adieu to the menace and mystique and has moved on, finding the role of enigma more comfortable and sustainable.

Second question. Why so many albums? Particularly when so many are so similar to one another. Add together all the official titles in the Corwood Catalog and we’re talking 70 releases. Why? The answer to this question might be relatively simple. Jandek probably just likes making records. I do. It’s fun. And, if you like to do something that much and can afford to it, then, why not? It’s probably as simple as that.

So where is Jandek the artist now? What does “The Song of Morgan” tell us? In 1978, Jandek started off as a guitar snapping primitive from another dimension. His earliest recordings are cave drawings by an artist who seemed intent on remaining inside the cave. It’s almost as if the artist decided that his journey in music needed documentation at every stage; novice, intermediate and advanced. While most musicians remain cloistered in the bedroom, practicing for the day they feel ready to present their muse to the world, perhaps Jandek decided that even his embryonic stages needed to be memorialized with an official record release. Regardless of intent, Jandek’s discography is a fascinatingly long and winding road. And, what a long strange trip it’s been.

Also we are dealing with an entirely new and separate period in the Jandek saga. When the documentary film “Jandek On Corwood” was released in 2003, all those interviewed in the film seemed to agree that Jandek’s discography could be codified into three (more or less) distinct periods. First was his guitar/vocal, delta blues from the twilight zone period. Then came his extroverted electric period where he collaborated with other musicians. Third was his partial regression into the isolated and menacing early template, best expressed in his harrowing and uncomfortable masterpiece “Blue Corpse”.

Jandek’s fourth act seems to have coincided with the release of the 2003 documentary film “Jandek On Corwood”. After the film’s release, Jandek confounded the world by making his first live appearance. Not only that, he began a campaign of concert appearances all over the globe whilst documenting them on video. The DVD’s and live audio CD’s were released by Corwood Industries with traditional regularity; thus giving us the first moving images of the man. At the start, Jandek’s live work seemed to represent the brackish work of his second period. Basic electric guitar, bass and drums squalling  in a power trio format. He started mutating quickly and began expressing himself in various configurations. Now it seems he’s a keyboard man. And, recent live DVD’s find him sitting behind an electronic synthesizer leading ad-hoc ensembles whose repertoire is the free-form ambient music found on Jandek’s 2012 release “Maze Of The Phantom”. His concerts draw SRO audiences wherever he appears.

I needed to do some homework to properly calibrate my perception of “The Song of Morgan”. So I went back to 1999 and studied Jandek’s first foray into piano music. A fifteen minute piece called “The Beginning”.

“The Beginning” is a difficult cup of tea leaves to read. The temptation is to say that Jandek hit the record button the very second he decided to sit down and play a piano for the first time. The piano is woefully out of tune. And much of the piece sees Jandek flooring the sustain pedal and letting the room ambiance do most of the sound sculpting. Other places I can almost see Jandek’s gears turning and calculating the percussive potential of the instrument as he repeatedly hammers on the upper register keys until the room echo and colliding harmonics threaten to create a new tonality. There are times it seems that Jandek might have taken a few lessons on the instrument, and other times he sounds like your pedantic four year-old toddler banging on the keys in the throes of a sugar rush. The piece is an exploration. Much of “The Beginning” is self-indulgent.  However, there’s one thing we can say with certainty, “The Beginning” is 100% pharmaceutical grade Jandek.

Now Jandek fancies himself a classical pianist.  Gone is the segregation-unit ambiance of his early work. The piano on this new collection is in tune and apparently of good quality. Likewise the recording is as clear and full as you could want. The bass rumbles and the upper registers plink as God and Deutsche Grammophon intended.  At first listen I have a strange affinity for the music I am hearing.  Probably because Jandek’s pianistic skills are roughly comparable to mine at my peak proficiency.  However, where I avoid memorializing my limitations on record, Jandek embraces the challenge and ups the ante by issuing an instrumental album almost nine hours in length. Going back to 1978 musical currency,  we’re talking 15-18 vinyl LP’s! Jandek has balls of titanium to go with his (apparently) bottomless war chest.  But, what could he be planning as a follow up? A Christmas Album? A collection of children music? I’d better shut my yap, lest I give the ‘gang’ at Corwood Industries any ideas.

So here’s my pledge. I’m going to listen to every note on all nine volumes of this new work multiple times. I will be living, driving, working, sleeping, eating and excreting Jandek’s “The Song of Morgan” for as long as it takes. Do I have a life? At this point, I think the answer should be obvious…..

CD 1 (Nocturne One)
Nocturne 1 establishes a template that will become very familiar on each nocturne.  A slow bass ostinato in the left hand paired with cautious improvisation in the right hand.  Minor keys predominate. At about 18 minutes in, things start becoming a little more active with some higher register arpeggios as the left hand becomes a little more stabbing and percussive and Jandek rolls out some well-placed glissandi. This is the first point at which things sound properly classical. Around the twenty minute mark,  Jandek starts exploring the bass notes a little more aggressively and actually demonstrates some facility in the left hand. The glissando action is now migrating to the bass notes of the keyboard. This middle section seems the dramatic apex of the piece with  random cascading note clusters and some hyperactive dissonance. Jandek then moves back into the high register with some staccato plinking that evokes the image of a farm hand stabbing a haystack with his pitchfork looking for a bothersome rodent. Jandek seems to be in a holding pattern whilst trying to keep the vehicle from going off the shoulder of the road. At 22 minutes we get some descending piano runs sounding very much like Pink Floyd’s Richard Wright on an ambitious day. We are now going into a section of free playing. Just throwing random technique at the wall to see what sticks. Up till now Jandek was trying to stay in his modal comfort zone. At certain points you suspect the artist is just ‘pissing around’ on the piano.  But it is a performance. A marathon. No punches or pro-tools trickery is in evidence. At the twenty-four minute mark, the storm has subsided and we are very much back to the walking bass lines and meditative  counterpoint, which is pretty much the same territory Jandek staked out earlier in the piece with the exception of some marginally adventurous interval movement in the bass.

Originally my intent was to studiously dissect each piano piece as one would a frog in biology class.  However, as I pursued this policy, I realized that this was as unfair to the artist as it was to the reviewer.  For example, the most rewarding moments  occurred during half-sleep.  On one occasion I awoke to one of Jandek’s more hyperactive interludes and momentarily thought that Jandek employed overdubs on one of the pieces. Closer listening revealed the passage to be real time improvisation. However, it did remind me that “virtuosity’ is subjective and totally in the ear of the beholder. Also some of his more percussive improvisations in the higher registers resulted in timbers that sounded more synthetic than pianistic. Listening to Jandek in half-sleep has it’s rewards.

More than once I fell asleep listening to “The Song of Morgan” only to awake at daybreak with the album still playing without repeat, a somewhat unsettling experience.

CD-2 (Nocturne Two) – In my research I found one reviewer who compared the music on this album to Erik Satie. The beginning of Nocturne Two definitely mines Satie territory. Whereas Nocturne One started off with rudimentary counterpoint. …..Two seems to me more interested in establishing chords as a mission statement. Pleasant if somewhat tentative. Jandek finally introduces some thirds in the bass……About seven minutes in we have a break in the action which either suggests a new movement or an edit or both.  Action resumes with some delicate upper register notes much like those my cat composes when she makes an unsanctioned walk across my piano keyboard. Not that this is a bad thing. My cat is fairly musical. I’m thinking the break at seven minutes was an edit because Jandek now seems refreshed and more assured in this playing.

The more I live with the record the more I become familiar with Jandek’s “parlor tricks’ on piano. In the main, the pieces share a common architecture in that they begin slow and meditative. Slow walks with the left hand predominate. Variety will often be found in the form of a double time of the  walking bass. Each nocturne sports a hyperactive “free form” section where Jandek is just playing what he feels with blatant disregard for harmonic or rhythmic cogency. Sometimes the stars (notes) align and sometimes they don’t.  Non-figurative would be the only scholarly description of these abstract and atonal flights of fancy.

CD-5 (Nocturne Five) – This selection starts out morose and contemplative.  After driving around a minor key cul de sac for a couple of minutes, Jandek tries to open up the piece several times with some more energetic right hand work in the upper registers. At about six minutes in Jandek double times the left hand bass figures. This finally gets things moving and Jandek starts getting a little more adventurous melodically. At 10 minutes in Jandek seems to have painted himself into a corner with his static left and figure. However, his improvisations with his right hand becomes more adventurous and sure-footed. At twelve minutes in there are some nice, delicate upper register filigree. Jandek remains in a meditative and repetitive mode until minute 38 when Jandek starts hitting the keys a little more aggressively and starts throwing in a few glissandi and some more animated bass. This commences a somewhat abstract cadenza where the listener might be surprised by some rather athletic, rolling bass arpeggios against some deftly executed right hand soloing. This goes on for a while with intermittent episodes of inspired improvisation blended with  atonal tomfoolery. Jandek hits the breaks at minute 44:00 and returns to his beloved 5 note bass ostinato that he seems so very attached to.

Listening to the album, some recurring patterns become self-evident. Jandek’s technique is mainly a walking left hand ostinato.  He has developed an athletic knack for throwing in glissandi at regular intervals in both the bass and treble keys just to keep things moving and to suggest virtuosity. I was able to spot only one key modulation and that was met with the grinding of gears.  Sometimes Jandek seems to get caught in the moment and threatens to go off the shoulder of the road.  He usually soldiers on turning mistakes and happy accidents into new motifs. Of course Jandek’s  intent is only educated guessing on my part.  My wife hears it out of the corner of her ear and it sounds pleasant and relaxing. And, if you listen to this music in the manner most people would, it is. “The Song of Morgan” is an album I fall asleep to quite often. You cannot say that about any other Jandek album. This is a good thing. And, the ability to relax and think during nine hours of Jandek is an entirely new experience to the Jandekophile.

CD-6 (Nocturne Six) – Jandek finally finds his  voice on this work. The piece opens with meaty, ominous single bass notes, with pedal to the metal sustain. Right hand bass notes are eventually introduced and the next few minutes find Jandek giving us pure sound in lieu of any discernible time signature or harmonic structure. It works.  Think Cecile Taylor on angel dust composing music for a Japanese monster movie. The concussive rumbling finally give way to Jandek’s now familiar device of the slow walk in the base with close to the bone counterpoint in the right. This music is abstract.  It’s pure sound and is a welcome respite from the piano recital ambiance that defines much of “The Song of Morgan”. 

CD-9 (Nocturne Nine)

This last leg seems a restatement of all that’s gone on before. The quieter moments of this nocturne (and others) remind me of Bartok and his masterpiece collection of studies for piano, ‘Microcosmos”. Delicate, mildly dissonant, oddly accented and calm. Like any marathon runner there is stumbling and weaving at the end of the race.  But, I still cheer him to the finish line despite the salt stains and the contorted features.

Really, I can’t do Jandek any more justice than this. And, if my review is meandering and (at times) unfocused, perhaps it’s my life imitating Jandek’s art.  At first, I felt impelled to give a note-by-note commentary of every movement in this album. Then I realized its title is “The Song of Morgan”….Song, singular.  So, I’ll take the clues I’m given and view it as a singular statement.  I have probably listened to this work more times than any other person on the planet. I have listened to “The Song of Morgan” in my car, during walks, before bed, during sleep, at work and while cleaning the cat box. I have listened with a critic’s ear and an acolyte’s heart.  I have listened both passively and actively. After this review, I may never listen to it again.  Or it might be the first music I turn to on a cold rainy day with a book in hand. “The Song of Morgan” is like the public library. You may never visit, but it’s comforting to know it’s there.

Nobody could have predicted the longevity and/or artistic evolution of Jandek.  Listen to “Ready For The House’ or “Six And Six”.  Could you have possibly imagined that Jandek would be soldiering on 35 years later as anything, let alone a classical pianist?  Bravo to the artist who invents his own reality and hands his life over to the solitary sojourn of intuitive artistry. When quantum physics and Jandek’s persistence collide in musical expression, it’s a thing to behold.  Even if only for a few seconds.

Towards the end of my research I decided to do some final market testing. I played “The Song of Morgan” uninterrupted on my portable stereo at The Office  where I work.  Where I work has a customer service lobby where people have to wait in line. Captive audience. Near closing time, the line was long (as usual). However, one of my associates told me he noticed the customers were uncharacteristically calm and quiet if not happy. Usually, close of business lines are hyperactive, impatient and noisy. Not today. Nobody complained about the music. Indeed, Jandek’s work seemed to have a relaxing effect. Well, no, I think ‘medicinal’ would be a more accurate description. But Jandek  clearly controlled the room and left an impression , which is all any artist has the right to expect or hope. And, I’m sure an entire eight-hour shift performed to the backdrop of Jandek has never been experienced by any other government office.

Plug into “The Song of Morgan”and you may hear the soul of the man. He’s left it there for all to hear. Nine hours of streaming consciousness channeled through ten fingers and eighty-eight piano keys. It may not solve the Jandek riddle, or tell you what he eats for breakfast, but it might tell you how he feels.  If the mystery and menace of Jandek has been diluted by time and Youtube, he still plays the enigmatic card expertly. However, this new work does add another question to the thirty-five year conundrum of Jandek……

….Who on earth is Morgan?

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Click Here to buy Jandek music>>>http://corwoodindustries.com/

JD

Top 10 Mental Music Masterpieces #1 (Nick Drake) “Pink Moon”

Authored by Dale Nickey:

Nick Drake – Pink Moon (1972)

Unbearable lightness of being

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“Pink Moon” finds Nick Drake parked in a chair alone with his guitar, foretelling his untimely death at age 26. After recording two elaborately arranged albums of autumnal perfection, Nick shuffles into the studio an unkempt and closed-off lone wolf.  With the exception of Drake’s piano on the opening track, the whole of Pink Moon is pure, uncut Drake  with no frills or production tricks. Nick’s guitar sound could have been recorded yesterday. It’s dry, full and clear. Arpeggios as solid as a Swiss watch. The melodies and lyrics hang seductively in the air and mist away. The album documents the thoughts of a chronically depressed, borderline catatonic young man who could no longer navigate interpersonal relationships. “Things Behind The Sun” is the finest song on the album. It is existential, obtuse and paranormal all in one go. The instrumental, “Horn” is as fragile as a cut class wind chime. At a scant 31 minutes, this album can be easily digested in one sitting and is best appreciated in that manner.

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Nick is poster boy for the beautiful, doomed and depressed poet in all of us.  His back story raises more questions than it answers.  He sold a pittance of records in his lifetime.  Yet, somehow in death he has become a cult sensation and a thriving cottage industry.  We have still-photos but no moving images of the man. And he gave only one brief newspaper interview in his life.  He refused to tour.  Nick Drake remains forever young; an exotic rainforest creature frozen in amber.

Nick Drake had the whole enchilada. Talent, leading man looks, loving supportive family, charm, intelligence and the opportunity of a Cambridge education in the liberal arts.  Island Records gave him carte’ blanch to make records how and when the spirit moved him.  Somehow it wasn’t enough.  Nick Drake died in his bed in his parent’s home, from an overdose of antidepressants at the age of 26.  He died a failed recording artist in life who would become a legend in death.

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Mental Musical Masterpieces # 2 Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band – “Trout Mask Replica”

Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band  – “Trout Mask Replica” (1969)

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Trout_Mask_Replica (2)

Sometimes you just have to eat shredded wheat. The 1969 double LP,”Trout Mask Replica” is music’s answer to shredded wheat. It goes down hard and scratches your throat. But ultimately, it’s good for you.  The rhythms are fitful. The guitars are dissonant and clangy. And smeared over all this heap of brambles is the banshee wail of leader Captain Beefheart (aka Don Van Vliet).

Captain Beefheart started out his musical life as a Howlin’ Wolf devotee and also absorbed the dissonant improvisations of Thelonius Monk, Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor.  His first recordings in the mid-sixties brought the world a unique slant on the traditional delta blues he worshipped in his youth. He introduced the world to a young Ry Cooder and planted his flag on the outer frontier of pop radio with the regional hit “Diddy Wah Diddy” on Buddah Records.  Beefheart and his Magic Band were picked up and dropped by a couple of different labels before  Frank Zappa scooped up the group and signed them to his Straight Label with the proviso that Beefheart make whatever record he saw fit. “Trout Mask Replica” was the result of this artistic carte blanch and was almost immediately hailed by the rock intelligentsia as an unqualified masterpiece.

The tracks are funny and frightening. “Ella Gura” is pop craft burnt beyond recognition. “China Pig” is a Neanderthal blues stomp snorted into a very cheap cassette player. “Dachau Blues” is a gurgling, steaming, fire drill of a song that laments the atrocities of Nazi Germany. Beefheart leads the charge with his signature poisoned seal vocals and flagellant saxophone.  Spoken word interludes are sprinkled throughout this double LP and are evocative and earthy. Incredibly, the majority of the songs are not chaotic art jams but meticulously written and arranged set pieces. Released in 1969. Rock Music has never fully recovered from the shock.

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History has yet to decide on the mental health of Don Van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart).  Eye witness accounts tell of Beefheart physically bullying other band members, There was food deprivation and relentless psychological abuse. Long suffering guitarist  Bill Harkleroad (Zoot Horn Rollo) states with certitude that Beefheart logged many hours in the public library researching literature on mind control. In preparing the music that would become “Trout…..” Beefheart trail bossed the band into soul-destroying 14 hour rehearsals at their communal Woodland Hills compound. If Beefheart wasn’t  a nutter, then he had that peculiar brand of megalomaniacal sanity that is the domain of third-world dictators and Kool-Aid swilling cult leaders. Moreover, he repeatedly told bald face lies to music journalists in order to burnish his mythology.

In the eighties, Beefheart closed out his music career after a run of several fine albums. He moved to the Mojave desert with his wife and turned his back on the music business for a successful career as a painter. His work was exhibited all over the world and routinely sold in five figures. There he remained until his death from multiple sclerosis in 2010.