Vibrations Slowing But Not Resting

Robert Rich, serious auralnaut

Part IV. Initially I acquainted myself with the artistry of Robert Rich via his collaborating with Steve Roach on the superb Strata from 1991; but, probably I got to hear it sometime in 1993. By 1993 Rich had released ten records. Yet, at the time, I didn’t seek to unravel the Rich strand in Strata, and so he wasn’t on my radar screen. This all changed the first year working back in a record store. It was 1995 and my very hip assistant manager Chris (aka DJ Weirton,) hipped me to illbient and other urban electronic music. To make a short story shorter, both of us were all over certain labels, so when Asphodel dropped the two sets, A Swarm of Drones, and A Storm of Drones, that year, each slid into the CD player in the store pronto.

The compilations spread a massive exhalation of drones over seven sides. There, amongst tracks by Steve Roach, Ellen Fullman, Stuart Dempster, DJ Spooky, Robert Fripp and Robert Rich–those being the the only participants I was familiar with–were a host of new lights about to shine in my deep space cosmos.

Yet it was Rich and his tracks Bouyant On a Motionless Deluge, and and an excerpt from The Smorgh Sleeps On Velvet Tongues, that leaped out. I jumped on two records released the previous year, Propagation and Rainforest. Wow. Robert Rich’s ambient vision was, at that time, a bit more advanced than that of Steve Roach. His music was more diverse and the tribal elements more organic. I wouldn’t make this distinction about their relative standing today; after all, to me Roach and Rich are the equivalent of Miles Davis and John Coltrane in ambient music. But, back then, Rich’s mellow, exotic, shapely and spacy music drew me to it with an even greater siren song.

Alas, his older records were hard to get. A compilation drawn from those older records, A Troubled Resting Place, helped my investigation. I was restless, and, then excited to learn Rich had a new record finished, a collaboration, with one B. Lustmord.

Stalker. I will say this: it’s the ambient music that had the most far-reaching impact on me. It is in the same esteemed place with respect to my appreciation of ambient artistry as Mingus’s The Black Saint & the Sinner Lady is in with respect to my appreciation of jazz artistry. This is to suggest that it was through dealing with Stalker, that I began to intuit how deep was the craft and technique involved in etching sound worlds where events could be said to happen slowly.

Not as prolific as his peer Steve Roach, Rich continues to present a masterpiece every so often. Although Rich’s tribal ambient style is sustained these days in various collaborations, when left to only his own devices he seems to be recently zeroing in on a simmering, very slow, mellow dark ambient sonic vision. He’s got no competition as a drone-maker.

Robert Rich-Wikipedia

Over the Tones

Part II. influences. Stuart Dempster, colleague with Ms. Oliveros in The Deep Listening Band, is heard, but not seen, in this video in what I will term ‘the cistern series.’ There should be enough clues here to figure out what’s going on. (If not, see his page at epitonic. There, should you register, two free-legal, superb examples of his music are available.

The music of David Hykes, the composer and singer, stormed into the room widened by my encounter with The Deep Listening Band. Singing that left me speechless.

David Kykes has a great youtube channel.

Listen From Where You Are

Maybe/hoping, by Sunday, I’ll post mp3’s and downloadable Apple lossless tracks from my completed recording, Slidemare. (Tonight I’ve posted the track list and credits, and will post track notes with the tracks.) To build up to this, I’m going to provide context by exemplifying the most important influences for my first new recording in 8 years. There are four tracks that didn’t make the cut, so I’ll post at least two of those, too.

These masterful influences also provide a portent of the kinds of sound worlds I design in a painterly way. The genre conventions I have one foot in are several: drones, dark ambient, and, noise. My play-in-sound is intended only to please me, so, tis not likely to be universally palatable! My music, for the daring listener, hopefully warrants excursions through its strange sonic worlds.

I’ll present examples in the order the various exemplars flowed into my own sound field. First up, Pauline Oliveros. She’s, firstly, a genius in many dimensions–as composer and instrumentalist, as educator, as philosopher, and as inspiratrix. It is enough to say that her Deep Listening Band provided a startling initiation when I first heard their self-titled recording on New Albion almost twenty years ago. Her deep listening philosophy has been very influential for my sense of the total experience of sound.

What is Deep Listening?
Deep Listening® is a philosophy and practice developed by Pauline Oliveros that distinguishes the difference between the involuntary nature of hearing and the voluntary selective nature of listening. The result of the practice cultivates appreciation of sounds on a heightened level, expanding the potential for connection and interaction with one’s environment, technology and performance with others in music and related arts. (

An interesting report about Deep listening from a sensitive neophyte:

The Song Is Your Own, You Know?

Happy 75th birthday, Abdullah.

Although the number of musicians I favor is many, many, it is easy enough to sort out the echelon of those who deeply figure into my personal culture, into the brightest stars of my inner sound universe. Abdullah Ibrahim, for me the most important musician South Africa, (and Africa!) has produced, is at the top of this rarefied, personal list.

So are Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and Duke Ellington and several others. But, then, I never could have gained the–with them–the chance to in effect sit right next to their artistry in real time. After Abdullah’s wife, the singer/songwriter, Sathima Bea Benjamin, provided the introduction in 1987, I came to just such a chance and gained also the experience of a lifetime. There’s lots I could report, but suffice to say, it all boils down to a point of contact for which his music provided the nexus, and his profound human being provided the praxis!

He’s been making his extraordinary music for over five decades. The web site I built to celebrate his artistry is inactive, yet its a treasure trove of my views about his music. Check it out. (Probably, I should move it over here. )

I would urge most anybody to dip into Ibrahim’s musical waters; waters from, as a title of a composition put it, an ancient well.

He’s made over 75 recordings. There are no clunkers and each one on their own way is for me essential. This noted, my answer were someone to ask me which five to start with, would be:

1. The Mountain (RCA Camden) reissues the lion’s share of two famous records of Ekaya from the 80’s

2. Zimbabwe (Enja) quartet session with Carlos Ward on reeds. A stirring set oriented to the star of John Coltrane.

3. African Dawn (Enja) solo piano jewels

4. African Magic (Enja) equal to other trio sessions recorded for Enja, this is for me the best example of his trio approach

5. Township One More Time (al-Shams) the first recording made in South Africa after his return. rare in the sense that you have to purchase it online from a South African vendor.

Then, after dealing with some of these, you’d be hooked and soon enough you’d be winding your way down the jacaranda road of immense riches. Ibrahim continues to record, tour, and educate and mentor musicians. His most recent record is a solo piano set, Senzo. It’s stellar.

If you get a chance to see Ibrahim perform, you should run and take it up. Sit close. Pay attention. Breath with intention. Enjoy.

Grateful Dead Winterland 73

My favorite Grateful Dead are the psychedelic monsters of 1967-1970. I collect Dark Stars.

However, I’m not deaf to how the Grateful Dead became adept musicians, better songwriters, and built the awesome music machine that resulted in a singular success achieved on their own terms.

The Winterland run from 1973 has been loosened from the grips of the GD mother ship-shop and was re-released on Rhino in April. In 73 the band had completed the foundation. They’d integrated Keith and Donna Godchaux, and withstood the temporary hiatus of Mickey Hart.

In the 9 cds from Winterland, there’s not a lot of repetition, and, there’s a ton of joyful playing and singing. Here, the band wears their tunes like proverbial old shoes. They cruise but they weren’t on cruise control.

Doug Collette’s review at allaboutjazz says it better and more expertly than I could.

Back on the Ranch

VideoRanch, Pa Nes’s online general store, came through with the first round of goodies. Literally, the compact discs of And the Hits Just Keep On Comin’ and Just Your Standard Ranch Stash, replace well-worn, beloved rubber. Due to a mistake, I got a gratis copy of Live at the Palais. And last, there was the double CD set of Live at the Britt. Much to my pleasure and surprise, as shown below, Pa Nes, signed one of the Britt discs. I’m not an autograph hound at all, yet because Pa Nes occupies a special place in my pantheon, the gesture is huge.

Nesmih signature
As I mentioned in the previous post, Nesmith is one of the few musicians I’d like to interrogate simply due to my projection about how damn interesting he seems to be as artist and entrepreneur and forward thinker.


Chris McGregorIn 1976, having moved to Middlebury Vermont to run the record department of The Vermont Book Shop, I soon fell in with the musos broadcasting on WRMC-fm, the radio station at Middlebury College. My main guy there was Jon Hart. He was from Philadelphia and was a total jazz head. Late that winter I started guesting on his weekly show, and by the spring we were co-hosts. I learned a lot about jazz from Jon. He hipped me to Berendt’s The Jazz Book, to Sun Ra’s Philly roots, and told me of his many music quests to Third Street Jazz, the legendary record store in his hometown. In fact, he regularly brought back from such quests the limited edtion hand-coloured covers and records Sun Ra was producing in the seventies.

One of the rituals of doing or show was diving into the station’s large collection. By 1976 I was basically oriented to the great spread of Riverside and Prestige and Blue Note hard bop, and to the masters. Whereas Jon’s interests were broader and more advanced. He was a junior by then and he knew the station’s collection like the back of his hand. Before shows he would pull out, for example, Don Pullen’s ESP record, or those of Milford Graves and Guiseppe Logan, and have me deal with ’em! Jon turned me onto Pharoah Sanders, Randy Weston, Mal Waldron, and, bless him, he pulled out Dollar Brand’s African Piano disc on Japo one evening before a show. . . .turning point.

There was also in the collection a record by another South African, like Abdullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand,) in WRMC’s collection. It was the Neon (RCA) pianist/composer/bandleader record of Chris McGregor. One evening we auditioned it. I know I dubbed it on a cassette. I don’t remember anything of the details of what we felt about it at the time. Although, invariably Jon and me got stoked by any sound of surprise we came upon. A few years later, I had acquired every last bit of McGregor vinyl I could locate, McGregor and his small band The Blue Notes, and his big band, The Brotherhood of Breath, his music became a mainstay of my own WRMC jazz show, Groovin’ High (1980-1988.) I became a crusader for his music as record maven and broadcaster. As well, early on I reckoned McGregor to be the South African equivalent, musically, of Charle Mingus.
Blue Notes Ogun Box
Although McGregor’s big band and combo music is volcanic too, the main point of it is that McGregor’s creative vision was attached to the people of South Africa. He states as much–as recounted by his wife Maxine in her book about her husband, Chris McGregor and the Brotherhood of Breath. McGregor met with acclaim in South Africa 1961 and 1963, convening various groupings of The Blue Notes starting in 1963. Unfortunately South Africa and its apartheid system provided a singularly dastardly environment for musical ambition and artistry.

Although McGregor would play farewell concerts in 1964 in South Africa, he, as did Abdullah Ibrahim and others, chose to exile himself by the end of that year. The sad fact is that McGregor managed to survive but never really thrive as a entrepreneurial musician over the next, his final, 25 years. Maxine tells that his insistence on the integrity of his music was “over the top,” unmanageable. Which is to suggest that no compromise for commercial advantage could carry for him any appeal. Yet, records were made, tours and nightlub stays were secured, and his run of iconoclastic and courageous artistic mission, today, turns out to have been well documented.
1st Polydor Records
The many musicians and listeners who were drawn to the deep contact point of the Brotherhood’s sound were transformed. I’ve never met anyone who’s been exposed to McGregor’s music who was ambivalent about the experience. For me, simply though records, my experience galvanized my understanding of the joyful humanity that is the fuel for any profound people’s music.

This fall, Ogun, the music label originally founded to document his music, has released the box set of the year (or any year,) Blue Notes: The Ogun Collection. It collects previously released and unreleased recordings made in the mid-sixtiez. mostly by the most famous core ensemble, Dudu Pukwana, alto saxophone, Mongezi Feza, trumpet, Johnny Dyani, bass, and only surviving member, drummer Louis Moholo. I was previously familiar with two of the sessions, so the new music just blew me totally away.

This isn’t intended to be a review. (Try Sid Smith.) For me, this is holy African music. Don’t resist. The past four ears have brought forth a steady stream of essential Brotherhood music. Just this past year all three of the Brotherhood’s Polydor sessions have been issued, including a brilliant unreleased date. An unreleased trio date is crucial. Previously unheard Brotherhood of Breath dates are being released by Cunieform. ‘Embarassment of riches’ underplays the magnitude of these gifts!
Trio Our Prayer

Recently issued Chris McGregor:

Blue Notes: The Ogun Collection (5CD)*
1. Blue Notes for Mongezi
2. Blue Notes In Concert
3. Blue Notes Farewell 1964
4. Blue Notes for Johnny

Very Urgent
Up To Earth
(all recorded for Polydor

Our Prayer (previously unreleased trio date)*
source: Downtown Music Gallery

Traveling Somewhere
Bremen to Bridgewater
Eclipse At Dawn*
source: Cunieform Records

*If you can’t get them all at once! Blue Notes: The Ogun Collection qualifies as a desert island recording. Reviews of the new issues.

W.C. Bamberger’s appreciation | Tony McGregor | The Blues Notes web site

Then there is the brotherhood of musos. Hat tip to Jon Hart; and to musicologist Doug Richardson, who laid on me a precious cassette of rare South African jazz from the 50’s and early 60’s, including several tracks of McGregor’s Castle Lager Big Band and the famed 1961 septet; and to Lars Rasmussen, who besides being a tireless supporter of South African jazz, (and Abdullah Ibrahim’s discographer,) has published an important book of biographical captures and rare photos, Cape Town Jazz 1959-1963. The Photographs of Hardy Stockman. Sad story: years ago I took the two Musica solo records of McGregor (Piano Song V1&2) to work to play in the store, and inadvertently left them on the back seat. Yeah, it was summer. It took ten years to track down some quality mp3s. (Turning up the records, each worth $500+, is impossible.) Here’s the opening track, the medley Burning Bush-Mbizo’s Baby, from Piano Song Volume 1. Enjoy.


update: December 21 site: Blue Notes The South African Jazz Exiles (hideously hard to navigate but a labor of love of one MFowler.)