AMN Capsule Comments: Mike Eisenberg’s Recent Playlist (July 18, 2021)

From time to time, AMN writer Mike Eisenberg revisits older albums that he has not listened to in a while and provides comments.

Anthony Davis – “Hemispheres” (1983) 

Thanks to an ancient Wayside catalog for turning me onto this gem! “Hemispheres” (1983) by Anthony Davis. I popped it on recently and thoroughly dug it! It was described in the catalog as a (paraphrasing) “Jazz Art Zoyd” and I can certainly see where that’s coming from.

I don’t know if they still use this term, but 3rd stream music which is a fusion of jazz and classical describes this record. I think what attracted me to it initially was the very noticeable chamber rock/jazz elements on this. It has some dark Univers Zero moments and definitely an Art Zoyd vibe. On the jazz front, Muhal Richard Abrams comes to mind immediately, and maybe even a little bit of Henry Threadgill. There is a lot of complexity in the writing with loads of interlocking polyphonic movements with different acoustic instruments (strings, reeds, winds, etc). It was a joy to listen to this after all these years, I haven’t followed Davis that closely, but I believe he has moved on from this style…composing operas nowadays, I think. If anyone knows of a similar-sounding record by him, please speak up! 

Semantics – “Bone of Contention” (1987)

For all the NY downtown scene fans, I recently checked back in on the 1987 Semantics album “Bone of Contention”. I remember when I bought this, I struck up a friendship with one of the guys who worked at this small record shop in the Lincoln Park area of Chicago. It seemed like he had a big influence on the owner, because when the guy was working there, he was ordering all the “cool shit”. This was one of them. I remember he thrust this disc at me and said that I needed to hear this because it’s heavier than shit. That was how he described it, “heavier than shit”. I bought it on spec.

He was not wrong. The Semantics were Elliott Sharp on guitar and bass, Ned Rothenberg on tenor sax and bass clarinet, and Samm Bennett on drums and percussion. You can play this album softly and it will still sound loud. The mix sounds great, almost like a more high-fidelity sounding Steve Lillywhite but still sludgy, aggressively in your face, and gut punishingly intense. All three players get equal time and basically play together as an ensemble with no solos to speak of. I was tired when I started to listen to this …I was pumped when it was over.

Henry Threadgill – “Easily Slip Into Another World” (1987) 

It’s been waaaay too long since I’ve listened to this album in its entirety so I remedied that recently. Threadgill, one of my favorite jazz artists ever has a boatload of phenomenal releases in many different configs throughout his long career, but this one sits in the top three for me.

He usually likes to work in the medium to larger band format, on this one it’s a 7 piece with the addition of Asha Puthli doing (excellent) vocals on one track. I love his experimentations with two drummers, a bass, AND a cello player rounding out the rhythm section. One of the drummers is Pheeroan akLaff (please allow me to jump into the Prog ghetto for a sec) who is like the Alan White of Jazz. Something about him playing slightly behind the beat (if that makes sense, I’m not a drummer) reminds me of White (perhaps Peter Erskine too).

The frontline is ts, as, tp and tb who sound very loose, but if you listen carefully, they are tighter than a Gnats ass. I hear a lot of New Orleans Dixieland inspired stuff along with some free-blowing and some out there…almost modern classical movements. The album cover has Henry decked out in this sash with all kinds of medals on it, and a “Black Hand Bejewelled” reaching out to (obviously) present to him the highest possible honor humanity can bestow on a single individual…ladies and gentleman…THE SQUADTETT!!! The Squadtett…yeah….he earned it, especially after this album. 

Michael Eisenberg