on life, music etc beyond mainstream

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Archives: Oktober 2017



There are a lot of nice things being said about this album, that it’s an instant classic, one of the best ECM releases of the past decade, hearkening back to the „golden years“ (70s-early 80s?) in ECM history. So it was with some trepidation that I placed it on the Oppo, worrying it couldn’t possibly measure up to all the hype. Thankfully, all of those accolades turn out to be true.

The album has a shape all its own, a storytelling arc that swoops up the listener on a sonic journey; it really seems to be meant to be heard in its entirety. It’s a fairly low key sojourn, but it’s not without its dramatic moments, at least in contrast to its constant return to a contemplative center.

When I first heard Maqams, oddly enough In a Silent Way came to mind, not so much for content, which couldn’t be more different,  but in the way both albums wash over the listener, enveloping them in a specific environment, not unlike immersing oneself in a great ocean of spacious sounds, one that, like the sound of the surf, can be put on repeat without tiring of it. Each piece seems to flow inevitably and effortlessly into the next. And there is a connection between these two fine albums: they both have Dave Holland on bass. Holland is like a rock in both settings, laying down the groove and stating the time when necessary, floating when appropriate. DeJohnette, a powerhouse drummer, opts to sit in the background for the most part here, sometimes sitting out altogether, and only showing his formidable creativity and chops in a couple key places.

Pianist Django Bates shows particular discipline in the way he interacts with Brahem’s passionate, sensual, yet understated oud. There is not a note that doesn’t belong- the interaction is a precise give and take, sometimes almost call and response, but the two never get in the way of one another. I for one can’t wait to hear Django’s first ECM release as leader.

Of course there are „tunes“ on here, recognizable melodies, tempos and time signatures that one can eventually differentiate from one another. Yet the overall sense, even after many listenings, is of a complete whole, combined with a luxurious use of silence and a disciplined intention to only play what is absolutely called for. With music this open, these artists achieve a miraculous balance of freedom and form.

I can’t recommend this album highly enough. And I honestly can’t remember the last time I found something so inherently listenable that I just put it on repeat while hanging out at home. Yet putting one’s entire concentration on the music yields vast rewards. It is that good after all!



The November list guarantees a big variety between exploding colours, psychedelic work-outs and different shades of noir, in sound and vision. Of course we have lately seen some brilliant tv series, Halt and  Catch Fire will get all its praise in time, Humans, season 2 is another gem, Vikings, season 4 a stone-cold killer – and for everyone who‘s planning his or her Manafonistas year‘s end list of favourite records, here are seven more that will come out till Dec. 8th and may influence final choices: Mavis Staples: If All I Was Was Black / Lucinda Williams: Sweet Old World / Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: Soul of a Woman / Tom Rogerson with Brian Eno: Finding Shore (a good title for a record being released on a label named Dead Oceans) / Jon Balke & Siwan: Nahnou Houm / Brooklyn Raga Massive: Terry Riley‘s In C / Four-Tet: New Energy.

Autumnal greetings from MHQ


In the wee hours of Monday morning October 9, a firestorm came roaring down on Santa Rosa at the speed of a freight train. I didn’t get the evacuation call in Forestville because I wasn’t in town. I woke up to the news in LA, where I had just attended my niece’s joyous wedding in Malibu. I discovered my flight into Santa Rosa had been cancelled – in fact all flights into Santa Rosa had been cancelled.

After the hottest summer on record, in which temperatures had soared upwards to 110 degrees numerous times, we’d had an Indian summer that was only slightly less blistering. Welcome to the new normal: The night of the fires the humidity was down to 7%, typical in the desert, but not up here in Northern California. The freakish warm winds came up from the east, gusting up to 70mph, and when my friends in Santa Rosa heard there was a fire in Calistoga, they were concerned but not alarmed. Little did they know that fire was moving at the speed of 1 football field every 3 seconds. Only 2 hours later they had to flee their home, leaving everything behind,  even their photo albums, a lifetime of memories they had never gotten around to digitizing.

In fact, several friends lost their homes. None had time to think about what they would pack. Two were musicians who lost all their instruments. One couple sped up their driveway, flaming branches hitting their car. They barely escaped with their lives.

Finally getting a flight into San Francisco the following Wednesday, I was immediately struck by the toxic air – it had migrated all the way down to South San Francisco. The sky appeared dark and foreboding, almost apocalyptic. It was painful to breathe. But I was a man on a mission. The fires were burning out of control and I had decided to get back to my house if I could and pack up my studio.

The bus ride up north revealed the smoke was even worse as we neared Santa Rosa. Familiar landmarks were gone – the old Round Barn, a symbol of another, gentler rural time was obliterated, as were the Hyatt and the Fountain Grove, the two big hotels sitting on the hill right above it. Just to the east, the high-end neighborhoods had been hit hard, and as the wind pushed the wall of flames right across the 101 freeway, low income neighborhoods were completely leveled, leaving nothing but the chimneys jutting out from piles of pulverized ash, as if they had been firebombed. The Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, (only 10 minutes from my house,) a place I had seen Pat Metheny, Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock among others, and had spent many an evening listening to the SR Symphony, looked severely damaged. My hospital next door was closed, the Journey’s End trailer park next door, wiped from the face of the earth.

By the time I got to my house I was exhausted, had a meal and went straight to bed. In the morning I decided to pack my girlfriend’s Ford Escape and head back down to LA where she had stayed in order to protect her asthmatic lungs.

There were still fires burning out of control just miles from the powder keg of a canyon I call home. But what to bring? I started with my studio- my monitors, computer, drive bays. That’s what I had come for. To save my work and my clients work. My instruments, piano, vibraphone etc were staying – too large. My percussion instruments were too many. So I took my handmade one-of-a-kind Array Mbira and my electronic marimba – at least I would have those. I figured you could always replace an electronic keyboard or module, even a vintage one. Thus I left my rack full, only taking my favorite tube channel strip. I also threw a box of precious photos into the car.

But what about my CD collection? What desert island discs should I take with me? While I don’t have a huge collection, I realized they still represented a significant cash outlay, but more importantly, and far more than material possessions, they are a kind of soul food that I simply can’t live without. I looked at those discs, many of which I had spent hours seeking out, Internet hunter gatherer that I am, and thought of all those hours spent perusing the bins at Rasputin’s in Berkeley, Amoebas in SF, or the Last Record Store in Santa Rosa. And most of all, I thought of all the liestening pleasure they had brought me over the years.

Somehow, no CDs or vinyl made it into the Escape, and I „escaped“ the horrific air and drove back down to LA with the knowledge that if I did have to start over, at least I’d have a studio and a computer full of tunes. And a giant Mbira! And yes: The irony of driving to Los Angeles to escape bad air is not lost on me.

The whole experience got me thinking: what things are important? Evidently not clothes or tchotchkes-of those I only took a few. But music being soul food – then why had I not taken at least 20 of my desert island discs? I think by the time I left, I was pretty sure I’d be coming back to my house. Or maybe, I just couldn’t make up my mind. It was just too painful to choose, a kind of audiophile’s Sophie’s Choice… Or perhaps I was simply too lazy.

I’m curious if anyone would care to post their 10 or 20 desert island discs below. I think it would be a good exercise. Maybe someone else can do what I was not able to do myself. What discs would you take?

The fires are finally out as of Friday 27th, but my whole area is still in shock and grief. We have lost 42 people (with 12 still missing,) around 8900 structures including some 4000 homes, and over 200,000 acres of parkland, vineyards and farmland were burned. The priority was in saving lives- property was 2nd – and at least 3 of our state parks were allowed to burn. My hospital has yet to open. Recovery will take many years. Santa Rosa is a very different place from what it once was. For those thousands of people like my friends who lost their homes, it will be a long, slow process. I kept thinking, “ this could happen to any of us.“ Yes it can. Everything we have can be taken away from us in an instant. And yet, here we are. What a mystery!


They were a short-lived group with a history. They were nearly lost in oblivion, aside from the happy few New Yorkers with some of their vinyl from the early days of CBGB’s. Arthur Russell was part of the game, and part of their ending, but The Necessairies were not his band. First steps included a single produced by John Cale. Brian Eno lived around the corner. I never even heard the  name of the band, till the label sent me the reissue vinyl copy. Nice cover, I thought. And Arthur Russell? Remember this fucking genius who died so early – the endless line of HIV victims brought bitter endings to a blossoming cultural climate of the ’80s. Arthur Russell was no icon, no hero, he was a versatile composer and creator who preferred the background, loved going  to extremes and sabotaging every trace of mainstream.  He was re-discovered by a long article from David Toop (!) in the „Wire“, more than ten years ago. From that time on, his old works surfaced one after the other. The Necessairies belonged to his most accessible collaborations, maybe one of the reasons he quit service on a taxi ride when street traffic brought evrything to a long halt. For him it might have looked metaphorically. Life is full of errors. Listening to the re-mastering of „Event Horizon“ left me stunned. You know the difference between finding an artefact from times long gone and nod your head in respect – and jumping from your seat by the sheer joy of a „love at first sound“-album . „Event Horizon“ is such a beautiful thing, that of course exists in a power spot of New York’s New Wave offsprings from  The Modern Lovers to The Talking Heads. That said The Necessairies delivered their unique version of sharply cut „sunshine avant-pop“ with a fantastic rhythm section, great guitar work and the undergrowth of Mr. Russell. Its originality and playfulness is ending every discussion of just playing the memory game.


v i d e o


Sie sei einmal sehr wütend gewesen, erzählt sie, als sie ihr frühes Album „My Sweet Old World“ in einem Schallplattenladen fand, mit dem Etikett „out of print“, und dem Mann an der Kasse mitteilte, das sei ein Irrtum. Lucinda Williams war nie blutjung, nicht mal in ihren Anfängen, ähnlich wie Leonard Cohen. Aber glauben Sie ernsthaft, Leonard Cohen hätte jemals erwogen, gute 25 Jahre nach „Songs of Love and Hate“ „Songs of Love and Hate“ noch einmal aufzunehmen? Never ever.

Wenn Lucinda Williams genau das nun macht, stellt sich die Frage nach dem Warum. Eine Erholungspause nach Jahrzehnten, in denen sie eine Qualitätsarbeit nach der andern ablieferte? Ein Spiel mit dem Trend, Klassiker der eigenen Werkgeschichte live neu auzuführen, und warum dann nicht gleich als Studioaufnahme? Haben nicht sowieso alle Legenden und Sternchen Standards und Lieblingslieder wieder und wieder dargeboten, ein Teil der Aufführungspraxis – die volle Breitseite zwischen nostalgischer Patina (Streicher! Streicher!) und zersetzender Dekonstruktion a la Dylan. Letzterer hat es zuletzt allerdings auch gemütvoll angehen lassen.

Nun hat Lucinda Williams, mit ihrer fantastischen Gruppe (ich hatte das Glück, sie jüngst in Köln zu erleben), dem Frühwerk ihr Spätwerk  (64 Lenze, und soviele „beautiful losers“) an die Seite gestellt. Statt die alten Lieder an den Rand der Unkenntlichkeit zu treiben, kommen sie daher, als würde sie jedes einzelne Lied zum ersten Mal vortragen, oder als würde sie schon so lange in ihnen wohnen, dass die sich dort rumtreibenden Schatten einen Perspektivwechsel nach dem andern befeuern. You want it darker? Here it is.

2017 30 Okt

The Strong Man

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The strong man ran away from the circus
because the lion wouldn’t love him.
He wandered into a forest, and began
uprooting trees. A badger stared at him.
An owl woke up. The man ignored both.
He weaved, howling, through the trees
at top speed, sending squirrels scattering,
till he came to a small, circular lake which
he dived into and swam to the centre.
Treading water, he thought of the lion,
its luxurious orange mane, that he’d love
to run his hand through. He even saw
the sharp shiny teeth in the red mouth
he’d thrown live rats into. How could he
have been nicer to the kingly creature?
Fat tears ran down his red-bearded face.
He felt something tugging at his left foot,
stuck his head into the water and saw a
small serpentine monster was trying to
snaffle him. He laughed and punched the
thing on the snout, which set it writhing,
causing a whirlpool to start up which
the man was fortunate to escape from
but he did, and struck out for the shore,
then hauled himself up to lie there, watch-
ing to see what the monster would do.


(a poem by Matthew Sweeney)




„Unmöglich, jemals über die Gegenwart hinauszugelangen …“ – das schrieb Daniel Mylow als Widmung in seinen außergewöhnlich poetisch geschriebenen Thriller Rotes Moor, als er mir das Buch im Juni überreichte und von seinen unaufdringlichen Recherchen in der Rhön erzählte, seinen Besuchen in Cafés. Ich wollte dieses Rote Moor sehen, das stand fest, aber die Kulisse musste stimmen. Es würde Herbst sein, und kühl, der Himmel würde bedeckt sein, die Blätter der Bäume wären größtenteils heruntergefallen, kein Sonnenstrahl würde auf die blassgewordenen Flechten und rätselhaften Gestalten fallen, die man hier beim genauen Hinsehen überall entdecken würde, ich würde ein Paar feste Schuhe aus dem Keller holen, mich über nichts informieren und einfach nur nur die Koordinaten ins Navigationsgerät eintippen: 50° 28′ 0″ N, 9° 58′ 50″ E. Und bevor die Gegenwart sich ändert, ist die Vergangenheit immer schon da, ich sitze im Wohnzimmer meiner Eltern auf dem Teppich, und die Filme, in denen ein Moor vorkam, waren immer schwarzweiß und es war sechs Grad kälter und der Holzsteg war an einigen Stellen morsch und er war so schmal, dass wir hintereinander gehen mussten. Die Batterien des Walkman waren aufgebraucht, lief nicht eben noch „Sparkle“, von Taub, aus den Bedtime Stories, „Dolores“ von Bohren & the Club or Gore? Permafrost, es knackte im Unterholz und zwischen den kalkweißen Stämmen der Birken blenden aus einem vergessenen Garten Scheinwerfer auf.




Dass ich – von der Klassischen Musik kommend – den klingenden Düften des Jazz erlegen bin, liegt bestimmt an J.E. Berendts Jazzbuch. Meine erste Jazzplatte war Erroll Garners Concert by the Sea. Sie rotierte einst fast täglich auf meinem Philips Plattenspieler (Auflagekraft ca. 11 pond), und von den in der Frühzeit der LP üblichen mindestens 150 g Vinyl haben sich bestimmt einige Gramm in Staub aufgelöst.

Ansonsten war ich damals abhängig vom Rundfunk, der nicht über die Reichweiten verfügte wie heutzutage. Für mich waren nur RIAS – allerdings veredelt von Walter Bachauer – und der Bayerische Rundfunk erreichbar, abgesehen von Sendern der DDR, die ich kaum beachtete. Beim Bayerischen Rundfunk war Werner Götze der Herr über den Jazzgeschmack – Limes beim SWING. Das ging mir nicht weit genug. Es führte gar zu einer Abneigung gegen Swing Jazz und ganz besonders gegen Big Band Jazz.

Aus dieser Taubheit erlöste mich Don Ellis. Ich weiß nicht mehr wie ich auf Don Ellis‘ Electric Bath gestoßen bin. Das war weiß Gott elektrisierende Big Band Music, ich wurde beim ersten Hören reingewaschen von meiner Abneigung gegen Big Band Jazz. Dieses Album gehört zu meinen wertvollsten.

Ich weiß nicht, ob das Andenken an Don Ellis, der anno 1978 im Alter von 44 Jahren verstorben ist, in diesen Tagen noch hoch gehalten wird. Im Jahr 2017 wurde sein bei MPS produziertes Album Soaring, das ich bis dato nicht kannte, auf Vinyl und CD wieder veröffentlicht. Vor ein paar Wochen habe ich zugegriffen. Überraschung: Track 1 hat den Titel WHIPLASH.



„Dieser Film ist international in Musikerkreisen heftig angegriffen und heftig diskutiert worden. Ich kenne keinen einzige Stimme aus diesem Bereich, die den Film verteidigt oder gar gelobt hätte.“ (Henning Bolte)



„Nun, mittlerweile kenne ich etliche Stimmen aus der Jazzszene, die diesen Film faszinierend fanden, sich frei machen konnten von einem plumpen 1:1-Realismus der Abbildung jazzpädagogischer Normalzustände. Man erinnere sich an die real existierenden Kommissare, die sich seinerzeit im Ruhrgebiet darüber empörten, Schimanski würde ein verzerrtes Bild des Berufsalltags vermitteln. Selten so gelacht, hallo?! Wer zu dicht verbandelt ist mit einem sozialen Feld, tritt wie ein tumber Lobbyist auf, und könnte sicher in der FDP Karriere machen.

Völlig ungeachtet, was hier kulturell korrekt ist oder nicht: ein ganz fesselnder faszinierender Streifen. „The most immersive film experience since Gravity“, bemerkte die schlaue Filmkritikerin Catherine Shroud im Guardian, und obwohl ich öfter anderer Meinung als Mrs. Shroud bin: ja, das passt, Gravity ist bei mir auch noch mächtig gestiegen in der Achtung, als ich es mit einem guten Soundsystem sah.

Whiplash verwandelte Zeit in einen Flug, und die Kritik mancher Jazzmusiker, Jazzdurchblicker und Jazzpensionäre halte ich für klein und kariert. Für sehr klein, und sehr kariert. Entschuldigung, aber „wütende Debatte“: da nehmen sich ein paar Gesalbte doch zu wichtig. Wütend durfte man werden, als Ken Burns mit Wynton Marsalis nur brunzblödes Geschwätz von sich gaben, was Free Jazz, Sun Ra und den elektrischen Miles betraf.

Aber hier, bei Whiplash … es darf gelacht werden. Da kommt mal grosses Jazzkino daher, grossartig performt, mit klugen roten Fäden, mit der Kunst, auch Jazzfremde anzulocken, dann gibt es „wütende Debatten“, ein Sturm im Wasserglas der Nichtigkeiten…

Aus Deutschland kommt viel zu selten ein Film, der einen aus den Schuhen haut. Von Serien ganz zu schweigen. Ich muss schwer nachdenken, wann ich den letzten grossen deutschen Kinofilm gesehen habe. Ich kann mich nur an den einen oder andern erinnern, der, na ja, ganz gut war … Deutsches Kino ist oft gespreizt, pseudofiefsinnig, kunstverkrampft, formal anstrengend, Stoff für Seminaristen, und, ja, oft genug, der letzte Scheiss. WOLKE 9, dieses besonders gequirlte Problemgewälze, ist ein Prototyp der angestrengten Ernsthaftigkeit,  und keinen Deut diesem Feelgoodscheiss „made in deutschen Landen“ überlegen. Dieselben Verklemmungen. Es gibt tatsächlich Ausnahmen, naturgemäss selten.“ (Michael Engelbrecht)




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