Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Decade: 1 (2000-2001): 1

Cultural prophecy is always a mug's game.

Harold Bloom.

Dave Chappelle, Black President.

One night on stage in Washington DC, in June 2000, Dave Chappelle summoned the "first black president," much in the same way as Richard Pryor had done 25 years earlier--offering it as a figure of future myth and, for much of the audience, a scenario so surreal that when they took it as truth for the moment, the world turned on its end. The subsequent jokes were effortless; it was an easy laugh. And today in Washington DC, in July 2009, the first black president can screen Chappelle's Killin' Them Softly in the White House.

All the time goes somewhere. I'm making some decade-end mixes for friends, and so I figured I would put up some potential candidates on occasion throughout the remaining months of the '00s. (We never agreed on what to call them. The Aughts? the Ohs? The Zeroes? Our grandchildren will likely just call it "The Calamity": e.g., "My father was born about three years into The Calamity.")

These aren't "best-of"s by any means, as I'm not hip enough to make such claims. These are simply tracks I liked at the time, or came to like later on, or liked then, disliked for a while, then liked again. They're grouped by rough affinity.

The last Sunday Peanuts strip, February 2000.

Mystikal, Family.
Afroman, Hush.
Blackalicious, A To G.

Roger Scruton, philosopher and fox hunter, recently lamented that wherever beauty lies in wait for us, there arises a desire to preempt its appeal, to smother it with scenes of destruction. Hence the many works of contemporary art that rely on shocks administered to our failing faith in human nature...Hence the invasion of pop music by rap, whose words and rhythms speak of unremitting violence, and which rejects melody, harmony, and every other device that might make a bridge to the old world of song. (itals mine.)

Three rap invasions: a celebration of the extended family and the virtues of place and community (Mystikal's Let's Get Ready, 2000); a religious vision, though Afroman admits the herb might've had something to do with it, that ends with the image of an old man planting in his garden and humming gospel tunes (The Good Times, 2001); and the musical equivalent to Walter Abish's Alphabetical Africa (Blackalicious' Nia, 2000).

It's hard to be a bird in a flying house

David S. Ware Quartet, Sweet Georgia Bright.
Matthew Shipp, New Orbit.
William Parker Trio, Foundation #1.

At the turn of the century, the jazz musicians orbiting the saxophonist David S. Ware were the most talented group assembled since, pick your argument, Miles Davis' second quartet, or Air, or the World Saxophone Quartet: the pianist Matthew Shipp, the drummers/percussionists Susie Ibarra and Guillermo E. Brown, and the bassist William Parker, a worthy heir to Charles Mingus.

When Ware's quartet (Parker and Shipp are the constants, while the drummer's seat has rotated) cut two records for Columbia at the end of the '90s, it seemed something was happening at last: that avant-garde and neo-traditional jazz had reached an accord; that rock and electronic music had been integrated into the jazz canon; that, as Phil Freeman wrote in a book of the era, New York Is Now!

"Sweet Georgia Bright" is from the second and last of Ware's Columbia LPs, Surrendered (rec. November 1999, released May 2000). The tune was written by the tenor saxophonist Charles Lloyd in the late '60s, and Ware, in an interview at the time of Surrendered's release, said he chose it in part because he wanted to honor Lloyd's generation--Cecil Taylor opening for the Yardbirds, or Miles Davis playing the Fillmore East. Ware, who had opened for Sonic Youth (and whose drummer Ibarra would play with Yo La Tengo in the '00s), saw the need for a new synthesis. "I would love to open that box again. The energy, the potential--it's just there going to waste."

His sidemen's records were just as strong. Shipp's New Orbit (recorded 14 September 2000) featured a title composition in four incarnations--the first, included here, is an ensemble piece in which Shipp's repeated minimalist piano phrase underpins Wadada Leo Smith's warm trumpet; the other versions are solos for Shipp, Parker and a final Shipp/Parker duet (Gerald Cleaver is on drums).

And Parker's trio record Painter's Spring (2 April 2000) featured Daniel Carter on various horns and Hamid Drake on drums, the latter doing his best to rival Tony Williams in terms of propulsion on the opener "Foundation #1."

The White Stripes, Lord, Send Me an Angel.
Airport 5, Remain Lodging (at Airport 5).
Destroyer, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (Sea of Tears).

In their callow youth, from January 1999 to December 2001, The White Stripes released three LPs, a Captain Beefheart covers 7" and seven other singles, while Jack White also put out the Upholsterers single and guest-starred on the Wildbunch's "Danger! High Voltage!" Jack and Meg White also divorced (amicably, it seems) in the midst of it all.

The Stripes' cover of Blind Willie McTell's "Lord, Send Me an Angel," whose setting White relocates to Detroit, was issued as a 7" single (Sympathy for the Record Industry 645) in October 2000 c/w "You're Pretty Good Looking For a Girl (Trendy American Remix)". Still unreleased on CD.

Other ministers of production: Robert Pollard, who in between annual Guided By Voices LPs put out some 10,000 other records. "Remain Lodging (at Airport 5)" is from his reunion with former GBV'er Tobin Sprout, 2001's Tower in the Fountain of Sparks. And Dan Bejar, a deliberately minor artist or a neglected master (it was the sort of decade in which you could be both). His "Farrar, Straus & Giroux" is from Streethawk: A Seduction (2001).

Goldsworthy, The Neuberger Cairn, 2001.

The Handsome Family, In the Air.
Beachwood Sparks, This Is What It Feels Like.
Badly Drawn Boy, Camping Next To Water.

Pastoral music, of a sort: a man who can't cross bridges, a camper cooking fish and some cowboy hippies strung out on peyote. The Handsome Family (from In the Air); Beachwood Sparks (on their self-titled debut), a band that didn't do as much as I hoped (they essentially split in 2002, though they reunite on occasion), and Damon Gough, who goes by the silly name Badly Drawn Boy, from his The Hour of Bewilderbeast. All from 2000.

The Gentle Waves, Falling From Grace.
The Clientele, Bicycles.
Françoiz Breut, L'Origine du Monde.
Broadcast, Come On Let's Go.

We represent the lullaby league: The Gentle Waves is Isobel Campbell, the Scottish Jean Seberg lookalike and Belle and Sebastian alumna--"Falling from Grace" is on Swansong for You; The Clientele's "Bicycles" is from the EP A Fading Summer; Françoiz Breut is a Gallic illustrator and singer: "L'Origine du Monde" is from her LP Vingt à Trente Mille Jours (the average human lifespan). And Broadcast's "Come On Let's Go," which would've topped the pop charts in Godard's Alphaville, is from The Noise Made By People. All from 2000.

Keifer, Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom, 2000.

Ted Nash and Odeon, Sidewalk Meeting.
Radiohead, Treefingers.
Gillian Welch, April the 14th (Pt. 1).
The Go-Betweens, He Lives My Life.

Ted Nash is a New York-based clarinet/saxophone player who leads the group Odeon. The title track of their first LP Sidewalk Meeting (rec. 23-24 October 2000; out of print) opens with a plunger-happy trombone cadenza by Wycliffe Gordon that's marvel enough, but stay until you hear Nash's melody--one of the loveliest of the decade, carried by Gordon and Nash, later joined by the violinist Miri Ben-Ari. And Radiohead's "Treefingers" is from Kid A, 2000.

Gillian Welch dubbed the 14th of April--the day of Lincoln's assassination, the Titanic sinking and the worst Dust Bowl storm--"Ruination Day," and ruminated on it over two songs on her 2001 album Time (The Revelator). It's the day of consecrated disaster, though Welch considers it indirectly, wheeling around the signs and portents. A girl watches a scraggly, stoned rock band pull into her small town; they play to an absent crowd and leave the same night; the kitchen staff and janitors bag up the mess. Far beyond the town, the skies redden, icebergs melt, trains collide, death comes in spirals. It's a black-hearted mother of a song, with a melody that feels like remembered pain, and sewn through with lines like "God moves on the water/like Casey Jones." The record was released six weeks before 9/11/01, which it seems on the verge of predicting.

The Go-Betweens' 2000 reunion album The Friends of Rachel Worth, in which Sleater-Kinney was the backing band, is the record of two friends resuming a conversation interrupted a decade earlier. For sentimental reasons, I had assumed I'd choose a Grant McLennan song from this LP, but Robert Forster's material has aged better: the goofy "Surfing Magazines," the happy exile song "German Farmhouse" and, most of all, the gorgeous, unknowable "He Lives My Life," in which Forster considers a lost future, or spies on the man who married his ex-wife.

Top: view of lower Manhattan from Governor's Island, 10 September 2001.

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