Monthly Archives: December 2010
This recording from June 1964 is a strange one. Miles had thought he had finally settled on his new quintet after discovering Herbie and Tony (after Frank Butler was nixed and Victor Feldman decided to return to LA), but then George Coleman left the band. I’m still not quite sure why George Coleman left the band, although I have heard that he is a strange (and rather cocky) fellow, so if anyone has any insight into this it would be interesting to hear.
What would be even more interesting to hear is who recommended Sam Rivers. Not to say that Sam Rivers isn’t worthy of being recommended, but it just doesn’t seem to be a good match for this band. Sure, it was 1964 and Miles had yet to really break ‘free’, Ornette Coleman was already well established and this was only 6 months or so before A Love Supreme was recorded, but Sam Rivers just seems like an aggressive push when Miles was still playing standards.
Much has been said about how Miles slowly opened up as the band members around him pushed him further and further, but we’re not quite there yet on this recording. George Coleman played very much inside the harmony, a natural progression after Coltrane left, but Rivers abandons it completely. His style is not very reminiscent of Ornette’s, which was much more blues based; I’d say Rivers holds much more in common with Dewey Redman than anyone else, and if there is any good example of this comparison it is this record.
On the slower numbers, such as “My Funny Valentine”, Rivers plays much more within the harmony, but clearly only by ear. When the tempo jumps and the energy climbs, he veers off almost completely. But alas even Herbie, Ron and Tony weren’t ready for this lack of boundaries. There certainly is a lot of excitement and energy when Rivers solos, but most of it is rhythmic rather than harmonic experimentation.
This is the only official release with Rivers on it, and if anyone knows of any bootlegs I’d be very much interested to hear about them. But even as an official release it escapes many people’s catalogs and memories; few people have it or discuss it. I would recommend it if you’re a fan of Miles OR Rivers, but mostly if you’re just interested in hearing the gradual development of Miles classic quintet from standards and changes to originals and freer forms.
Most musicians desire to be labeled ‘original’ or ‘uncategorizable’, but few actually warrant such a characterization. Jim O’Rourke, however, would satisfy the qualifications for such a description. Allmusic.com labels him as a “post-classical composer”, but depending on the context from which you know him, he could be considered a pop producer, an alternative-rock bassist, a jazz musician, an electronic artist, an avante-garde musician…the list goes on. But what is most fascinating among all of this multi-faceted artist’s output is his own. Alone, O’rourke really is a sum of all his parts. He has a natural songwriting ability, but he can’t help but push the boundaries of convential form. He has a knack for straight-forward alternative pop, but at the same time feels the need to express his more creative components. And he understands the importance of a cohesive, artistic statement, but that doesn’t prevent him from wandering from what is expected. Among his many solo albums, Jim O’Rourke’s “Insignifance” stands as his magnum opus. Not because it is overtly adventurous or groundbreaking, but rather because it is a seamlessly concocted combination of a seemingly incompatible variety of sources and influences, and because in the end it just sounds so good.
And again, think of what sum all of O’Rourke’s parts generates: Imagine Wilco meets Tortoise meets Sonic Youth meet Gastr del Sol with splashes of the Beatles and electronic surges straight out of Edgard Varese or Paul Lansky. That statement alone sounds overwhelming and seemingly impossible, but O’Rourke achieves it. It is easy, upon first listen, to discard this work as unambitious, considering what O’Rourke has strived for in the past, but that would be missing the point. O’Rourke might have expected such a reaction; after all, the title of the album seems to be a tongue-in-cheek reference to his own ‘backwards step’. But the beauty in this record actually lies in it’s ability to deceive. The music sounds so simple and familiar, but it is so rich in texture and individuality that the more one digs in, the more one realizes there isn’t anything else quite like it.
“Therefore I Am”
“Therefore I Am” hits you early on in the album. Much of the song is a repetitive guitar riff that sounds like the best of an amateur garage band, but it is exactly this repetition, and what comes out of it, that makes the song so entrancing. When O’Rourke finally gets to the end of the chorus, what seemed to begin with one drummer and one guitarist has evolved into an orchestra of multiple drum sets, hand claps, layers upon layers of interlocking guitar parts, all complete with the obligatory “ooohs” and “aahhs”, only to resolve right back to where it started from.
The layering of instruments continues into the beginning of “Memory Lame”, whose first minute is built out of a very Steve Reich-esque tapestry of guitars, eukeles, mandolins and god knows what else, before falling into an all too familiar pop sequence. O’Rourke uses the opposite approach with the final track, “Life Goes Off”, which begins with familiar movements but evolves into an extremely rich amalgam of instruments and harmonies before fluttering out in an electronic buzz.
“Life Goes Off”
What the album as a whole communicates after even a single listen is that O’Rourke has an innate talent, respect, and love for pop music, enough so that he can leave it at its heart unchanged but also put in so much of his own effort and individual touches as to make it unique, special, and his own.