It started with a visit to a used CD store in Berkeley, California, seeing the album art for Naked City, a collaboration between John Zorn, Bill Frisell, Wayne Horvitz and others. I came to know about Bill Frisell the summer of 1989, because my then brother-in-law would drop me off at Yoshi’s some Tuesday nights (pre-Jack London Square location) and our friend who was bartending would let me see whoever was playing for free. One night I got to hear Bill Frisell. There were maybe 20 people there. Mind blown. This midwestern looking preppy guitarist started playing these crazy notes, with a tone that went on for miles. It was sad, full of melancholy and also exceedingly schizophrenic. Very studied in a way as well. I bought Frissell’s album “Before We Were Born” the next day. I remember playing that album on my return to Provo and it pretty much cleared the house. Which was the desired effect. cf: exactly one minute into the title track when the drums come in and the guitar sounds like the darkest urban canyon of Manhattan, circa late-1980s:
Naked City’s self-titled album Naked City opens with a track called “Batman”. Given the frenzy around the 1989 release of the Burton/Keaton Batman, I knew I had to have the album.
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I remember the first time I read a review by Robert Christgau, probably 1989-90, in his Village Voice column, “Consumer Guide.” I had subscribed to the Voice because of Nat Henthoff, Pauline Kael and a list of other writers, media critics and reviewers, but was oblivious to Christgau. I was a moron. Maybe I still am. In Provo, Utah, in 1989-90, reading the Voice on campus felt subversive. It also felt like disappearing into the demimonde of Manhattan, a markedly darker place where the above albums would get the attention they deserved. It was also more morally gray than Brigham Young University and full of more amazing everything.
So this morning when I read the above-linked Christgau post on Medium, it took me back to the days when I would come back from campus and find the latest Voice issue in my mailbox, stuffed in there with obvious disregard by a philistine of a mail carrier. Here’s why I like Mr. Christgau:
Although I admire Reich in general and love Music for 18 Musicians in particular, he does dig him some austere, and austere I can live without. But here Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood performs one of Reich’s more virtuosic pieces and Reich returns the favor by assigning minimalist variations on some cunningly concealed Radiohead themes to the alert experimentalists Alarm Will Sound. Right, no one would call it a party. But the rock sonorities are very much a comfort nonetheless.
In four sentences, you know everything you need to know about Steve Reich’s new album, Radio Rewrite. Also, he gives grades to whatever he reviews, e.g., Before We Were Born, B+.