Friday, February 16, 2018

the doctrine is IN.

The rapper reveals his sensual exploits in S & Eminem, a Yo Yo Mah Jongg film. Perhaps he was “cup-holded” in a previous relationship, you know, forced to watch his partner place a beverage into a strange receptacle. Or perhaps he developed sympathies for the captors who kept him hostage in a warehouse—he might’ve suffered from Stockroom Syndrome. Do you know the hip-hop poet, Eazy-e.e. cummings? Well, L.L. Cool J. Edgar Hoover Dam!

We say “patty wagon” because in the beginning of law enforcement, only hamburger makers were thrown in the back of the van. Did you know that the cops can invoke “Search and Caesar” and thereby confiscate your salad? The Chinese, meanwhile, will be catering the next solar eclipse with their cuisine, Dim Sun. Before that happens, you should go see the new episodic play that focuses on Native American deified spirits—The Kachina Monologues.

Listen to the editor, when the editor sez: “I smell errata!” He may be suffering from a Chagall stone in his De Gaulle bladder. Humankind emerged from the ancient goop to primordial ooze and ahs. Thirteen deer are a hunter’s venison whereas every bird is a moderate, owing to its left and right wings. Chickens are always being forced to re-coop their losses, while turkeys are on the rise—and on the pumpernickels. I saw it on that TV show, Slaw & Order.

Thinking ahead, the husband and wife planned their funerals: his and hearse. Afterwards, they watched a triple X movie about double-entendres: Read Between the Loins, a Yo Yo Mah Jongg Film. Here are your messages. The crunchy sixty-something called you back—yeah, the baby boomer rang. Whereas that Australian toy you chucked at the far horizon, that didn’t return? What a bummer-rang. Lodge a complaint with the Obscurity Exchange Commission!

Was it B.B. Q’ing who sang the blues and ate the barbecue? (He’s back on line, he’s B.B. Queueing, for some more saucy meats.) Okay, okay, I’ll mind my appeasements and queues. The mafia are now predicting the end of the world, or so sayeth the Cosa Nostradamus. If you can’t honk there’s a product—“Honk Ease”—that should help you honk, whether or not you’re brightening your coffee in Half & Halfghanistan.

Thursday, February 1, 2018


The young woman’s whereabouts involve snow: seeds and dots weltering in halos of oily water at her shoelaces, which go boot-over-boot down the embankment to lengths of wintering scrub. “Garvey’s Ghost”—the bitter sweet percussion—starts on her earbuds. Her red hair clipped and chipped. The railroad tracks offer a north-south corridor between shallow wood where the wind can scour the poor footing of coarse ballast, culvert quiet and quiet akimbo. She had walked, once, through the pre-lightning metals, the stackable shoulders of a buckled housing distant, until she had lain down in a cemetery, long enough to be missing. A group of firefighters in t-shirts, heavy pants, and suspenders had discovered her, fetal, amid the irrational angles of the headstones. They had carried her (it only took one) (at a time) through a bright precipitate, and among the elevations and lift, she caught the slanted medallion of a fuselage in blue-gray suspension. Trumpet, the train drives through the wake of its own trumpet, the heralding, itself, always irrelevant.

There is little time to spread her arms in benediction as the locomotive—speeding, bright, juiced by catenary power—illuminates the regret of her body, organized forward in recognition of terror. Thirty minutes later, the train brakes, shrill, to a clatter, before the incongruity of a brief reversal, the passengers wakening to a small station, quiet akimbo. Abbey Lincoln had been guiding the musicians with the swells of her wordless voice, and the young woman must’ve deduced, “No, it’s good to be cold, it’s good to be cold,” before the engine’s number, 900 series, screamed beyond the glint of her good, cold, living eyesight. The conductor will fumble but save his coffee, the train will move, people will move, and isn’t that why she had protested in the first place, as the song clanged in her earbuds? Portraits will always decorate the hollows of a living room. They will always decorate fewer hours of dusty light.


Little Blue Mouse

Red Line
Wash., D.C.

Blood And

1 minute

Advance Praise:
“No mice, no dice! We demand umpteen equity rodents now!” —Critter Twitter
“The sensible reaction in the D.C. subway system (is to run!)” —Espouse Mouse
“The mouse sizeth-up. Ye shall know of my great benevolence.  ” —Mono Deity

Thursday, January 25, 2018


Falafel Sandwich Induction Ceremony

I first witnessed Heterodyne at St. Stephen’s Church (D.C.) last October. The band had appeared as part of a “punk rock benefit” to raise funds for a worthy social services organization. In addition to core performers Ted Zook and Maria Shesiuk, four other musicians had arrived to swell the band’s membership. A landscape, a tableau, a panorama ensued, and the bandmates climbed around in that scaffolding without compromising the ethos of ensemble cohesion. They listened to each other. I listened to them listening to each other. I wanted in, and after enduring a grueling application process—just kidding; it mostly involved lunching on a falafel sandwich in Baltimore—I appeared with Heterodyne in early November.

How I Violate the Band’s Basic Premise

At a minimum, Heterodyne performs as a duo. Ted plays basscello and Maria plays Moog synthesizer. Anybody who they invite to contribute as a guest performer, can contribute as a guest performer. The band might feature three (we three performed at the Lutherie in Baltimore during my inaugural appearance in November) or it might feature as many as seven. There are no “tunes,” plural. Each time it plays, the group creates one original, improvised, continuous song that it does not—cannot possibly—rehearse. As “words,” I arrive with prepared texts, and in this way, I violate the band’s basic premise, even as I shuffle the texts throughout. To recite from memory would still violate the premise and to speak extemporaneously would terrify everyone. 

Maria and Ted

The Heterodyne Sound

Maria builds a city at every engagement: a grayscale terrain filled with partial signage, the simultaneous focusing and unfocusing of ideas, and an invigorating sense of desolation. (Too, the moonlit curtain of possibility hovers throughout the fluidity of this terrain.) Enter the guests—Patrick Whitehead, Leah Gage, Doug Kallmeyer, Amanda Huron, Sam Lohman, Bob Boilen, and Sarah Hughes—who inhabit the space that Maria has built, in phrasings that mesh the truest experiments of the American idiom. The dot dots of the trumpet, the murmurs of synth, the horizon of strings, the indivisible odds of percussion, and the undeniable impulse and curvature of the saxophone. In particular, the women of Heterodyne have really astonished.
Ted Zook

Ted, of course, contributes mightily to the Heterodyne sound. He begins, he presides, he saws away, he fingers the strings, and he, quite importantly, offers us all a thoughtful level, when we take a moment to repurpose. He rudders, he nods, he does and doesn’t conduct(s). I’ve known Ted for many years, and his stature as a Great Musician and a Gentleman cannot be underscored enough. Ted organizes the group offstage. He keeps Heterodyne swimming in gigs. He “porters” a generous aesthetic that empowers the collective to search. And when I say “porters,” I am punning a little bit on one of Ted’s other well-known qualities—that he arrives at each performance with, and hauls, and installs, and debugs a considerable amount of gear! 

Heterodyne at Dew Drop Inn, January 18, 2018. L to R: Ted Zook (basscello)
Amanda Huron (percussion), Maria Shesiuk (Moog), and Bob Boilen (synth.)

What We’ve Learned As a Band

Individually and collectively, we say “Coltrane” far too often for it to be a coincidence. This—cross-genre collectiveness—is the future of all things. During our two-month stretch, we appeared at ten iconic venues, including An Die Musik in Baltimore and Velvet Lounge in D.C., but our performance at VisArts in Rockville may have been tightest. We have invented many, many meanings of the color “preternatural.” Personally speaking, I didn’t do my best work. Too often, I read whole pieces, when I should’ve stuck to scraps and syllables. I can, however, write for a band like Heterodyne. There is a new kind of integrated art possible, and as someone who has searched, for years, for community, this realization may (literally) save my (literary) life.

Coincidentally, Heterodyne Is a Poetry Term, Too

Nobody understands the “poetry heterodyne,” and thus, it sits dusty in encyclopedic spaces. Purportedly, dear reader—purportedly!—the poetic heterodyne occurs when a physically shorter syllable receives stress (or pitch change) ahead of the physically longer syllable. (So sayeth the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics.) It’s not half-mad to think that way, in “telling it slant” (per Dickinson). The better-known definition of heterodyne involves the creation of new frequencies by combining two frequencies. I have seen that firsthand in Ted’s and Maria’s partnership, only they are taking it further, in combining as many as seven frequencies all at once. I am very grateful they allowed me the opportunity to add my frequency to the ruckus.

Recordings & Links
Recording at VisArts, 12/1/2017 
Recording at Rhizome, 12/14/2017 
Recording at An Die Musik, 1/11/2018 
Recording at Dew Drop Inn, 1/18/2018 
Heterodyne Tumblr page 
Heterodyne Facebook page 

this post is part of a triple issue.
Also see: Sarah Hughes
Also see: Joy On Fire


The Sarah Hughes Sing Song Trio at Sotto, Washington, D.C., January 25th, 2018

After wrangling my way into the improvisational group, Heterodyne, I’ve had the great fortune to befriend several musicians I wouldn’t have otherwise encountered. The first day I met Sarah Hughes, she invited me and a few others to an impromptu jam session in her apartment on Maryland Avenue in Baltimore. Some highlights included Sarah playing flute while riding a stationary bike, the arrival of Corey Thuro and his electric mandolin, and a personal moment during which Sarah and I discovered an owl living in her kitchen tabletop. Also present were Heterodyne core partners Ted Zook and Maria Shesiuk. (For this gathering, it can be said that I bongo’ed rather incompetently.)

I have performed with Sarah several times by now. At Heterodyne shows, we are usually situated next to one another, and it has been momentous for me, to be arranged beside Sarah, who is a keenly intelligent, considerate soul, and who is wildly talented. She is the reigning best alto sax player in the D.C. area, as proclaimed by the latest Jazzies Awards. In addition to sax, Sarah also plays flute and clarinet, and sings, and scats, and projects the fabulous melodies of her voicing. Last night, I caught her for the first time as leader of the Sing Sing Trio, which features Steve Arnold (bass) and Jack Kilby (drums). The Sing Song Trio played a host of jazz classics—Monk, Bird, Ellington-Strayhorn, etc.—with such affection and energy that when Sarah crooned “You Don’t Know What Love Is” she must’ve been speaking to those out of earshot. The audience, meanwhile, fell in love with her quickly and “maaaadly.”

Unless I’m mistaken, Thelonious Monk first recorded “Let’s Cool One” in the early 1950s, on Blue Note. More than sixty years later, Sarah and her bandmates easily resembled a trio of Monk’s era. A song that builds, “Let’s Cool One”—akin to another Monk tune, “Evidence”—could have invented bebop all by itself, if called upon to do so. It was compelling to watch the Sing Song Trio navigate through an intricate Monk composition, especially as all three musicians experimented in the middle of the tune. A lot rides upon Sarah’s shoulders, if jazz is ever to regain a percentage of its former prominence, but as last night demonstrated, she is more than capable of “cooling one.” Her choice of piano-less trio resembles Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, and Ornette Coleman, and she’s as good a saxophone player as any of them. Let Sarah cut a slew of 45s, jam at Minton’s (so to speak), and become the High Empress of Love, Saxophone, and Jazz Trio!

Sarah Hughes web site 

this post is part of a triple issue.
Also see: Joy On Fire
Also see: Heterodyne


Joy On Fire perform “Hey, Hey!” live at 
The Crown, Baltimore, January 14, 2018.

Hard Rockin’ Trio

I had my bones blown backward by Joy On Fire when they shared the stage with the improvisational group I belong to, Heterodyne, at Baltimore’s famed music palace, An Die Musik, on January 11th of this annum. Three scant evenings later, they played their scorching piece, “Hey, Hey!”, a second time, as we shared the stage at The Crown. Let’s get a few things straight, straightaway: Joy On Fire swings HARD. It’s rather immediate, what they do, onstage. Try to categorize them, if you dare, but they are producing outstanding music that defies classification.

Call ‘em What?

Joy On Fire describe their sound as “punk-jazz / fuzz-rock.” Just imagine the baritone sax of Pepper Adams grinding away throughout the Mingus album Blues and Roots, and the implacable cascade of The Stooges as they crush “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” and the inventor of fuzz, one Grady Martin, and his guitar, playing “The Fuzz,” with chorus and orchestra, on Decca, 1961—all of this compressed into a present-day trio. “Hey, Hey!” builds, circles, honks, hammers, rings, and crunches something fierce. A magical moment transpires when Anna Meadors (bari sax) shouts “Hey, Hey!” after John Paul Carillo (guitar) and Chris Olsen (drums) return from a rest. Get it?

Fire with Fire

Their new album, Fire with Fire, is available from Procrastination Records. It unfolds as one cohesive document even as individual numbers distinguish themselves. Joy On Fire enmesh their considerable threads of influence. They demonstrate copious ensemble. We have always wanted to experience this music, but couldn’t demand it be played, because we couldn’t articulate it in advance. We must worship this band by driving up and down a sleepy street, windows unrolled, stereo full-throttle, scotching the complacent dreams of many good people.

Joy On Fire web site 
Procrastination Records web site 

this post is part of a triple issue. 
Also see: Sarah Hughes
Also see: Heterodyne

Monday, December 11, 2017


Barbara Dane

When a friend restated the simple question—“Who is the best singer?”—that her mother had recently posed, I chuckled at the burden of having to develop a response. Far too many locales, styles, eras, people, and tunes jumbled themselves. The friend, a formidable singer herself, had replied “Freddie Mercury” to her mother, perhaps owing to a Queen song she’d just overheard. In fairness, I love a question both fundamental and fundamentally unanswerable, as this one. Quite a few people can sing, by the way. So, to repurpose a phrase, I pressed my ear to many hundreds of exemplary numbers.  

Too, I required a framework. I chose the twentieth century since it has concluded for the most part. (I leave the twenty-first century to its inhabitant critics.) It felt inequitable to compare men and women together, thus I opted to develop a separate list for each. “Critical acclaim” would be necessary for inclusion but not “star status.” I rejected singers whose catalogues presented “same-y” or saccharine. Character, roughened voice, pioneering sound, and jarring delivery all appealed to me. I hardly resisted a song that “ripped my heart out” (to borrow another phrase.)

If I studied a variety of styles, including jazz, rock, folk, country, blues, soul, and R&B, I left opera, easy listening, and other niches to inhabitant critics. Rather than be “an island” I allowed the counsel of others to penetrate the cold, unforgiving veneer of my soul. Published lists, however, such as the Rolling Stone Magazine “100 Greatest Singers of All Time,” often disappointed me. I tended to reject a vocalist who recorded flippant material, but not a singer who presented with a (classically) lovely voice. Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man” is just such a (classically) lovely song. 

Rev. Gary Davis

The representative record for each singer (accompanying the lists) may be the one you’d expect, or if not, then a solid starting point. Some of these musicians—Karen Dalton and Rev. Gary Davis, for example—might not appear on any other lists of this nature. Good. Investigate these marvelous artists with my blessing. And why, Dear Reader, should my list reinforce any others? (Nota bene: Twelve of my twenty singers did not appear on the Rolling Stone extravaganza.) Here we have a scatting, haunting, versatile, steaming, scuffling, powerful, sensitive, trailblazing, salty, enchanting group—and that’s just the women. The men will add the candors of gravel, work-fat vernacular of sinew, law-breaking impulses of restlessness, transcendence of zen, and gyration of dialect.

Freddie Mercury did not make my list. Tina Turner did not make my list. Patsy Cline did not make my list. Marvin Gaye did not make my list. They’re all very fine vocalists. But this gathering concerns itself with “unassailable” qualities. By that, I mean the shadow in the voice, how it burrows into reason long after it has burrowed into stark emotional discharge. How it may glide or stagger between the stations of crisis and (however naked) the stations of distrustful calm. Some of these vocals peaked like trumpets. Some negotiated new terrain where the words of a song (necessarily) gave way to sound-play. Some voices burned free of rooftops and treetops and fingertips, like late-day sunlight in early winter.

To me, each of these unassailable singers could answer my friend’s mother’s unanswerable question. Enjoy.  

Mahalia Jackson

The Ten Unassailable Female Vocalists of the Twentieth Century (with Representative Record + Year Recorded)
Betty Carter (“Sounds (Movin’ On)” 1980)
Karen Dalton (“Katie Cruel” 1971)
Barbara Dane (“Special Delivery Blues” 1957)
Aretha Franklin (“Respect” 1967)
Billie Holiday (“Strange Fruit” 1939)
Mahalia Jackson (“Keep Your Hand on the Plow” 1955)
Nina Simone (“Feeling Good” 1965)
Bessie Smith (“Down Hearted Blues” 1923)
Kitty Wells (“It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” 1952)
Tammy Wynette (“Stand by Your Man” 1968)

Next 5: Ella Fitzgerald, Janis Joplin, Jean Ritchie, Koko Taylor, Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

Van Morrison

The Ten Unassailable Male Vocalists of the Twentieth Century (with Representative Record + Year Recorded)
Louis Armstrong (“Heebie Jeebies” 1926)
Ray Charles (“I’ve Got a Woman” 1954)
Rev. Gary Davis (“Samson and Delilah” 1961)
Bob Dylan (“Like a Rolling Stone” 1965)
Roscoe Holcomb (“On Top of Old Smokey” 1961)
Robert Johnson (“Hell Hound on My Trail” 1937)
John Lennon (“Imagine” 1971)
Little Richard (“Long Tall Sally” 1956)                       
Van Morrison (“Brown Eyed Girl” 1967)
Elvis Presley (“Heartbreak Hotel” 1956)

Next 5: Johnny Cash, Sam Cooke, Howlin’ Wolf, Leadbelly, Jimmie Rodgers.

 Kitty Wells

Discography / Women
Betty Carter: “Sounds (Movin’ On)” from The Audience with Betty Carter (Bet-Car Records, 1980)
Karen Dalton: “Katie Cruel” from In My Own Time (Paramount Records, 1971)
Barbara Dane: “Special Delivery Blues” 1957 from Trouble in Mind (San Francisco Records, 1957)
Aretha Franklin: “Respect” b/w “Dr. Feelgood” (Atlantic, 1967)
Billie Holiday and Her Orchestra: “Strange Fruit” b/w “Fine and Mellow” (Commodore, 1939)
Mahalia Jackson: “Keep Your Hand on the Plow” from The World’s Greatest Gospel Singer (Columbia, 1955) [Arguably a more stirring rendition recorded live, with Duke Ellington; see: Duke Ellington Live at Newport 1958 (Columbia)]
Nina Simone: “Feeling Good” from I Put a Spell on You (Philips, 1965)
Bessie Smith: “Down Hearted Blues” b/w “Gulf Coast Blues (Columbia, 1923)
Kitty Wells: “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” b/w “I Don’t Want Your Money, I Want Your Time” (Decca, 1952)
Tammy Wynette: “Stand by Your Man” b/w “I Stayed Long Enough” (Epic, 1968)

Roscoe Holcomb

Discography / Men
Louis Armstrong: “Heebie Jeebies” b/w “Muskrat Ramble” (OKeh, 1926)
Ray Charles and His Band: “I’ve Got a Woman” b/w “Come Back” (Atlantic, 1954)
Blind Gary Davis: “Samson and Delilah” from Harlem Street Singer (Prestige Bluesville,1961) [Arguably a more stirring rendition recorded live; see: Rev. Gary Davis “Samson and Delilah (If I Had My Way)” from The Reverend Gary Davis at Newport (Vanguard, 1968)]
Bob Dylan: “Like a Rolling Stone” from Highway 61 Revisited (Columbia,1965)
Roscoe Holcomb: “On Top of Old Smokey” from The Music of Roscoe Holcomb and Wade Ward (Smithsonian Folkways, 1962)                                                             
Robert Johnson: “Hell Hound on My Trail” b/w “From Four Until Late (Vocalion, 1937)
John Lennon: “Imagine” from Imagine (Apple Records, 1971) [Arguably better performances with the Beatles, including, for example, “A Day in the Life” (1967), “Come Together” (1969), and “Revolution” (single version, 1968)]
Little Richard: “Long Tall Sally” b/w “Slippin’ and Slidin’ (Peepin’ and Hidin’)” (Specialty, 1956)
Van Morrison: “Brown Eyed Girl” b/w “Goodbye Baby (Baby Goodbye)” (Bang Records, 1967)
Elvis Presley: “Heartbreak Hotel” b/w “I Was the One” (RCA Victor, 1956)

Sources for discography: 45cat, Allmusic, Discogs, Smithsonian Folkways, Wikipedia. 

Betty Carter

Also See
Louis Armstrong: “Am Pluto Waterly Yours
Jump Around: Top 25 Greatest Jump Blues Songs
John Coltrane: Energy Kick