vendredi, février 13, 2004

Jobs for the boys

Ten years after his death, Frank Zappa's still keeping musicians employed all over the world

John L Walters
Friday February 13, 2004. The Guardian

Taking care of Zappa's soul: George Duke

Frank Zappa didn't hate jazz, but he famously quipped (in Bebop Tango) that "jazz is not dead, it just smells funny". His views were based on personal experience. When Zappa shared a package tour with Duke Ellington, he was shocked to see the great jazz bandleader reduced to pleading with the promoter's assistant for a $10 advance. This led him to dub jazz "the music of unemployment".

Ten years after his death, Zappa's own music still provides employment for musicians of all genres: from Kristjan Jarvi's 20-piece Absolute Ensemble to the Liverpool-based rock/classical alliance of Muffin Men and Ensemble 10:10 (of the RLPO), who have just released When Worlds Collide, the Music of Frank Zappa (WWC, £12.99), which includes Ian Gardiner's arrangements of pieces such as Dupree's Paradise and Oh No.

The performances, however, lack the avant-garde heart and Teutonic jazz soul of Ensemble Modern's Greggery Peccary & Other Persuasions (RCA, £14.99). The Frankfurt-based EM perform Ali N Askin's arrangements of gems from Zappa's catalogue. Night School and The Beltway Bandits (from Jazz From Hell) and Put a Motor in Yourself make the most of the band's funky egghead virtuosity, and only a couple of tracks invite the skip button: the tired Peaches en Regalia - effectively Zappa's Pomp And Circumstance March - and the annoying title track.

Jono el Grande is the nom de disque of Jon Andreas Hatun, a 29-year-old Norwegian whose 10-piece band plays tuneful, entertaining instrumentals such as Tango on the Crest of Reality and Rumba For a Slightly Excited Ape. Though Hatun is self-taught, it sounds, on the evidence of Fevergreens (Rune Grammofon, £14.99), as if he took an evening class in "Zappa 101" - the one where they show how any tune can be made to sound like early Zappa by doubling it with mallet instruments, underpinning it with stiff jazz-rock drumming and adding a silly title.

I suspect the jazz-inflected qualities of Zappa's best work came not so much from his own instincts, but from everyday contact with musicians such as Napoleon Murphy Brock (due to guest with Absolute Ensemble), the Fowler brothers and keyboardist/vocalist George Duke, all part of the fragrant line-up that performed Bebop Tango on Roxy & Elsewhere. For Zappa, creative musicians were a necessity, and Duke, who plays a five-day residency at London's Jazz Cafe next week, combined great chops with the ability to send himself up. He brought some valuable warmth and soul into Zappa's intellectual burlesque, and his subsequent career has included hit crossover projects such as Brazilian Love Affair, his 1980s collaborations with Miles Davis and some terrific solo albums.

Face The Music (JJ Tracks, £14.99) is the latest, and he's still on good form, with a great rhythm section that includes bassist Christian McBride. The weakest moments occur when they inject a little Zappa-type weirdness. But plenty of Duke rubbed off on Zappa. The Ensemble Modern performances wouldn't be half as good without that crucial dose of smelly old jazz.

Laura Veirs

Album: Laura Veirs: Carbon Glacier, Bella Union

By Andy Gill

13 February 2004

With Carbon Glacier, Laura Veirs has created an album with a strong, singular sense of place: the place being the Pacific Northwest of America, from the Colorado Rockies where she grew up, west to Seattle where she lives, and further on out, into the amniotic embrace of the Pacific. The ocean, Veirs concedes, "is everywhere in this recording", something she attributes to her obsession with Moby-Dick.

The region's bitter climate is reflected in the elemental imagery of songs like "Icebound Stream", "Snow Camping", "The Cloud Room" and "Wind is Blowing Stars", as Veirs subtly espouses a Zen-like pantheism that affords all things - the weather, water, ice, even rusting hulks of ships - a spiritual dimension usually reserved for living beings. Fittingly, the first track, "Ether Sings", opens by invoking music from the "wooden vibrating mouth" of her guitar, as if raising its spirit to speak. When it does, the gentle picking is warmed by an occasional gust of accordion and, at the end, a hypnotic blend of strings, synth whine and Veirs's amiable keening.

Few songwriters are blessed with the kind of contemplative, philosophical nature Veirs displays on Carbon Glacier, with childhood memories, sudden impulses and passing observations mined for deeper meaning. There's a keen, probing sensitivity throughout to aesthetic matters, with "Lonely Angel Dust" a meditation on the transient nature of beauty ("The rose is not afraid to blossom/ Though it knows its petals must fall"), and "Rapture" contemplating art as doomed attempts to capture the rapture of nature, with references to Monet, Basho, Kurt Cobain and Virginia Woolf illustrating the risks involved. "Love of colour, sound and words," muses Veirs, "Is it a blessing or a curse?"

The settings devised by Veirs and the producer Tucker Martine make striking use of the viola of Eyvind Kang (whose own fourth-world offering Virginal Coordinates was one of last year's hidden gems), either as mesmeric drones alongside Lori Goldstein's cello, or smearing piquant, Eastern-inflected streaks that bring new light and shade to a melody. Other instruments evoke their own elemental impressions: the drip-drip-drip of plaintive banjo, the foggy drone of organ, the light but vivid guitar-picking like leaves dancing in the breeze.

In places, the depth and atmosphere of the arrangements recalls Dylan's Time out of Mind, particularly the combination of ghostly, distant organ and bright, sparse guitar in "Shadow Blues". There are echoes of the The Dirty Three's contemporary sea-shanties, an allusion finally borne out in "Riptide", virtually a hymn to the ocean, an enthusiastic surrender to its ebb and flow: "I'll float here with the shrimp and brine/ And on my cheeks and hair/ The salt will always shine/ And with this phosphorescent map/ A sailor's chart, a mermaid's hand/ Something I'll find."

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd