"I'm going around with my ex-girlfriend on a long road trip, scanning the dial, and a song comes on and she says, 'Ah, it sucks!' I said, 'No, no -- let me listen to it. I don't know if it sucks yet,'" says James Singleton. "It takes me longer (to decide) now -- 'Y'know, it's very competent, they're in tune, they're swinging.'
"'Oh no -- that's contemporary country. It sucks.' She's hearing the genre and might be missing something."
For Singleton, bassist for Astral Project and 3Now4, genre is a significant subject for contemplation because his music doesn't fall neatly into one. Time Ebbing, 3Now4's new album, includes a respectful take on Thelonious Monk's "Off Minor," with only the sound of Dave Easley's pedal steel guitar on his solo separating the track from other post-bop treatments of Monk. Tracks like "Bulldog Run" and "Lauren Z" begin with conventional head arrangements, but the pieces don't adhere to conventional structures and feature group improvisation, a sound typically defined vaguely as "avant-garde," the catch-all term that wrongly in this case evokes mental images of a firestorm of notes. With Easley's pedal steel central to the band's sound, there are purists who wonder if 3Now4 is a jazz band at all.
Of course, the names of the genres pose problems because their meanings aren't always clear. "Johnny V. told me before 'smooth jazz' came to mean what it meant," Singleton begins, referring to Astral Project drummer Johnny Vidacovich, "he got to see Ornette Coleman with Charlie Haden, Ed Blackwell and Dewey Redman for five nights in a row. What he said was (mimicking Vidacovich's voice), 'I never knew jazz could be that smooth.' It was perfection. The seamlessness of it was what he was hearing, while someone else might have been hearing this jagged you know.
"People embrace genre as a matter of expedience," Singleton contends. "It's a means of getting a handle on something."
Getting a handle on 3Now4 is initially a little challenging because its roots aren't solely in jazz. "I was raised with all different types of music and a lot of classical music," Singleton explains. "I feel the need to build radically different textures into the music and really f--k with the orchestration." Easley is a master of changing the texture of his pedal steel, so much so that audiences often find themselves looking around for the source of the organ sound before realizing it's him. The same applies to the horn players who have been with the group -- Nicolas Simion, Charlie Miller, Tim Green and Scott Bourgeois. "Texture and tambre are a big part of what they do, "Singleton says. "I get bored hearing a good tenor sound all day. I want to compete with the symphony orchestra. I want to compete with the bands with Marshall stacks."
Wayne Kramer refers to Future/Now Films' MC5: A True Testimonial as "a bootleg film." The documentary on the seminal punk band is showing at 7:30 Tuesday-Thursday, April 27-29, at Zeitgeist with poet/ former MC5 manager John Sinclair performing with the Blues Scholars after Tuesday's screening. The movie has become mired in controversy over the filmmakers' rights to use the music, with Kramer, Michael Davis and Dennis Thompson opposing it and filmmakers Dave Thomas, Laurel Legler and Rob Tyner's widow, Rebecca Derminer, suing to use it.
Details of Kramer's perspective can be found at his Web site, but it's a shame the business surrounding the movie has become so fractious because MC5: A True Testimonial makes almost as good a case for the band's explosiveness as the classic Kick Out the Jams.
Briefly, the live footage looks as kinetic as the band sounded. A version of "Looking at You" borders on ballet, as the band's lunges and leaps seem not only tied to the music but to each other. In all the clips, Kramer epitomizes the phrase, "rock star," working James Brown dance steps into his playing, jumping and dropping to his knees as if the songs had to be played that way. He is as compelling an adult in the movie as he was a younger man, which makes the legal issues around it all the sadder.
Cosimo Matassa will be the keynote speaker at the third annual Tape Op Con, held in New Orleans May 28 to May 30 at the Fairmont Hotel. The conference, sponsored by Tape Op magazine, is for professional and amateur musicians, engineers, and producers interested in hearing the likes of Jim Dickinson, Ian MacKaye, Steve Albini, Jenny Toomey and John Parish talk about recording music. One series of panels deals specifically with recording at home, while another's focus is for the computer user. Connected to the conference will be three nights of music at The Howlin' Wolf, one acoustic night headlined by Vic Chesnutt, an electric night headlined by Calexico and the North Mississippi All-Stars, and a closing night party featuring Drums and Tuba. For more details on registration, directions, accommodations and conference details, go to www.tapeopcon.com.