Friday, February 26, 2016

Jazz CD review: Missing // Jazz With Meaning, by Dave Nelson

Dave Nelson
Missing // Jazz with Meaning
I first became aware of Dave as a trumpeter with the Oral Fuentes Band, and soon found out that he is also a top-notch jazz man in his own right, not singularly playing reggae; the man simply loves to play, which you can easily tell seeing him perform. This collection is all original jazz pieces that feature Dave leading a top-of-the-line five-piece ensemble. Each number has its own feel, and this is the real deal, not the “lite jazz” that is too popular.  

Although presently a native of Saskatoon and originating from Washington State, Dave recorded this at Brooklyn’s Systems Two studio.  Many of the songs have some relationship to either youngsters or a theme of seeking, as it is dedicated to families of missing children (, and part of the purchase price goes to that goal.

Dave Nelson; pic by RBF
The opening number, “Blues for Katie,” is lively in classic Miles style bop that is a bit a-melodic, and yet follows a defined path that will have your head bouncing to the rhythm.  “Missing” is more 1950s noir, which could easily be the background to a Mike Hammer film, with visions of rain-drenched asphalt and windshield wipers keeping rhythm.  On the other hand, there is also a quiet joy with a touch of dissonance (i.e., sharp notes) about “Found,” the following piece. “I Live in Mexico” is a lighter mood opus with a “South of the Border” Latin-style jazz motif. “Take a Deep Breath” seemingly is not named to say “calm down,” but rather an instruction to be able to play the piece. He plays the horn straight for many bars, sometimes in a staccato style. It’s a really nice number, and quite energetic with a classic big band feel.

“Let the Children Dance” has a ‘50s or ‘60s theme, bringing to mind the kind of tune that would play while someone like Bob Hope came into a room, or a Doc Severinsen tune.  “Keep on Searching…” (do you see the theme of the titles here?) is lovely and upbeat, relying as much on all the instrumentalists (Jon Davis, Ian Froman, Javon Jackson, Gianluca Renzi)who each have solos, as much as Dave’s horn. The last one, “Father Time,” is in a similar vein, as with most of the music here, upbeat and, well, jazzy.

Most of the pieces are over 6-1/2 minutes on average, but the songs and musicians hold up throughout. Very worthwhile.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Book Review: Underground: The Subterranean Culture of DIY Punk Shows, by Daniel Makagon

Text (c) Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2016
Images from the Internet

Underground: The Subterranean Culture of DIY Punk Shows
By Daniel Makagon
Microcosom Publishing (Portland, OR), 2015
223 pages (inc. photos); USD $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-62106-518-0

The central focus of this book is a look at independent venues that put on shows and produce their own idiosyncratic scenes, rather than the usual bars, theaters and other licensed places with names that many are familiar with, such as the 9:30 Club, the Channel, and so on. Rather, we get to see an inside look at the positives and negatives of holding performances in houses, garages, and shows in rented spaces. He also handles the topics of the differences between being payed to put on shows, and having volunteers who are there for the excitement and experience, more than for the payload. An example of a New York volunteer-run space discussed here is ABC No Rio.

House shows are nothing new, and were certainly not invented by the punk scene. Folk music has been doing it for decades, under the Scottish term, Cèilidh (pronounced as KAY-lee). Sure it started as just some friends coming over and bringing their own instruments and playing together, but it also developed into house shows for pay in the 1960s, at first as to raise money for civil rights causes, but now it’s often done to support the space and musicians; it continues on to this day. I once saw a community centre dance during 2003 in Mabu, Nova Scotia, with world renowned musicians such as fiddlers Natalie McMaster and most of the Beaton family for CAN$7 (McMaster alone usually sells out Carnegie Hall). Recently in Saskatoon, there was a local political rally for a local political party held in a backyard [HERE].

However, punk shows are their own kettle of fish, dealing with a totally different kind of audience. Rather than sedate handclapping-along, with the amplification comes energy and a larger chance of mayhem, substance abuse, and dealing with anxious police enforcement. Makagon is correct when he posits that “each city has its own unique roadblocks” (p. 198).  As I’ve oft said, most local scenes start off small and intimate, and as they catch on, they tend to attract a violent element (usually jocks that destroy the joy, usually starting from their actions in the pit) which eventually wears the scene down to extinction, or other factors associated with that popularity. As Makagon puts it, “The whole scene can be let down by the actions of a select few fools” (p. 214).

The local scene that last attracted me was in Brooklyn, called the Punk Temple, where a bunch of entrepreneurs rented out the basement of a Bensonhurst synagogue [HERE]. There were shows approximately every three weeks featuring bands touring from all over the country (but mostly from the Tri-State area), for a few years in the early 2000s. As the Temple (as it was known to its regulars; Makagon shows that all scene places have a unique name) became better known, the pit became more ferocious, and though all ages and substance free inside its doors, people (mostly teens) would hang around outside to do their imbibing. The noise they made did not sit well with the lower-middle class area and there were some complaints from the neighbors. Finally, during a sold out show with Leftover Crack headlining, the Police had enough and pulled the plug. Through the precinct’s influence, the synagogue stopped renting the place and in a couple of years, the building was replaced by a condo complex. Other local offshoot scenes were tried, but over time they vanished as well, like the mist on the moors, or the clouds from a smoke machine.

This is the kind of situation that Makagon addresses, about how the scenes get started, and the people who run the show. This is certainly not a how-to primer, but rather what to expect from the crowds, from the bands, and the neighbors.

Broken up into sections dealing with different aspects about the positives and the negatives of DIY shows, in the book Makagon follows a formula that is reminiscent of a graduate school project (not saying this as a complaint in any way, as I am certainly comfortable with that style). For example, he talks about an issue for a bit, and then has a quote from someone who has experienced it for a bit. The writing style varies from keeping it on a level that the average reader can appreciate (i.e., not opaque, or in academic lingo), but still manages to throw in some theory that is juuuust academic enough to make it bona fide. Again, this is not meant as not an argument for or against the book, it’s just an observation.

The book covers multiple scenes from across the US, and is well researched, even beyond the author’s Chicago locus. Part of what makes this viable, to me, is that he is not an author in search of a topic to dissect, but rather he is involved in the movement, so it’s something that is close to him, and it shows. His describing himself as one of the oldest on the scene is also something with which I can identify.

Also included in the book are a large number of monochrome photos from various scenes published in dark green rather than black, as is the text. While a bit wordy and could easily be trimmed by quite a few pages (that is the academic’s albatross, needing to say volumes; it’s very common, even to me), there is still plenty of material that’s worth sorting through.

Overall, the book is not only informative, but it’s also quite enjoyable, even through the occasional dry spots. If you’re thinking of throwing some shows, or want some more knowledge about it, even to just see that you’re not alone in whatever you’re going through, it’s worth it to add this to the list of books about the topic. Again, this is not a manual, but it is a good source to help keep it going, including on a psychological level, from both a level of an academic and a fan.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Review: Welcome to Your Funeral: The Story of Rigor Mortis, Part 1 (beginning to 1987)

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2016
Images from the Internet

Welcome to Your Funeral: The Story of Rigor Mortis, Part 1 (beginning to 1987)
Written and directed by Bruce Corbitt
Narrated by Philip H. Anselmo
12 Pound Productions / MVD Visual
110 minutes, 2015 / 2016

 Rigor Mortis is well-known in the heavier band circles, even outside their own Dallas-Ft. Worth (DFW) scene where they exploded into the stratosphere of metal cultdom. Oh, they were different when they formed in the mid-1980s, in that they were one of the first to incorporate guitar rock sounds (not hair band) with those of the hardcore scene thanks to a fortunate timing of walking into a punk club and joining the pit full of skinheads. With this nascent formula, Rigor Mortis (RM) became one of the first eminent speed- and thrash metal groups, especially in the Central part of the country, away from any oceans.

 This is a documentary of the RM story…well, the opening chapters its history, anyway. On some level, I am always pleased to see an oral history of a band or a scene, rather than hear about it in a retrospective by some music historian or chronicler who depends on second-hand information. That being said, this was written and directed by RM’s lead singer, Bruce Corbitt, so it does come across as kind of one sided. The indication is that they were not just the first but the only non-hair metal band originating out of DTW that mattered (and perhaps that’s true, I don’t know).

This is not, however, necessarily a fluff piece. It seems that most of the interviews take place around 2008, and the band comes across as being somewhat nice guys, even though they fully admit that they started fights, did more than a bit of imbibing, and raised some (sometimes literally) bloody hell during their tenure according to this Part I.

It’s great that we not only hear from the core of the band, including Corbitt, once wild orange haired bassist Casey Orr (who would also play with Gwar as Beefcake the Mighty), drummer Harden Harrison, and guitarist Mike Scaccia, but from various other bands around at the time and some that were influenced later.

Scaccia created his own style of playing that is recognizable to metal fans, claiming he did it the first time he ever picked up the instrument as a teen, to impress a girl (he states when she heard him, she gave him the guitar). He is also the only one in the band who didn’t originate from Texas, but rather is a Long Island goombah from Babylon; I say that completely complimentary); he would also go on to become a core member of the noise band, Ministry.

In its nascent stage, RM would constantly make fun of other softer rock bands who pile on the make-up, have hair that’s stripped of color and flounced out, and ridiculous and colorful leather outfits (and the occasional feathered boas), especially the local Pantera. Ironically, the band became close enough friends with Pantera replacement vocalist Phil Anselmo (he led Pantera’s to fame), who became a fan of RM after seeing them just before joining the band, that he is the gravelly and surprisingly monotone narrator of this documentary (and is also being interviewed).

Thing is, as relatively exciting as RM are, it’s kind of hard to tell just why they were so popular from this documentary. They sure do come across as a bit charming, surprisingly considering their reputation for wild boys (then again, they are aging, as well). And it really is a boys club here, as with the exception of Rachel Matthews, who signed them to Capitol Records and was Executive Producer of their first, Eponymous LP (still have my vinyl copy with press release), there’s no women in sight (she is interviewed toward the end, at the right moment in the story), including girlfriends, groupies or wives. Rock and roll is not exclusively penis-oriented, even if the majority of those on stage possess that equipment. Were there no females in the scene back then, even fans, who could have added some comments?

The biggest issue I have with this documentary, though, is not only that it’s a standard talking-heads about a bunch of guys reliving their glory days, but rather that there just weren’t that many good examples of their trade. Yes, Scaccia shows off some nice licks in the interview parts, but the clips of their live music is short clips that are both furry visuals (surely VHS transfers) and even worse, fuzzy sounds. The vocals are impossible to appreciate, and the sound is melded together like a stack of records at a garage sale that were sitting in the sun too long and melted into one.

Make sure you watch the credits, because it is filled with lots of still pix of the band throughout the ‘80s, and helps express the band from that standpoint quite well. As for extras, there’s a few. First off there is a 2:28 fun interview with John Perez (Solitude Aeturnus), and 7:16 of drunken stupidity with Wayne Abney (singer/bassist of Hammerwitch), both discussing seeing early versions of the band. The rest are live clips in concerts or practice sessions, comprising about a half dozen of their highlight songs. The quality varies, but it gives a better understanding of the band’s sound and appeal to their audience.

Now, I have a theory about this film. If I am right, and much of it was recorded towards the end of the 2000s, it might be the death of Scaccia in December 2012 that may have been the impetus to get the film finished. While he is arguably probably better known for his work with Ministry (which broke up after his death), it was during a RM gig in Texas for director Corbitt’s 50th birthday celebration that he had a massive heart attack onstage. This could be why in part Corbitt has fought to bring the documentary to fruition. The release is dedicated to him at the end, and rightfully so.

Despite my complaints that this is a bit of a generic recording of a band history film, it’s gained quite a lot of attention, and even won the 2014 Best Documentary at the Housecore Horror Film Festival in San Antonio, Texas. Like every other group bio, if you like the band, you know you’re going to get tons out of it, so if you know who they are and you’re into that kind of sound, or remember them from way back when, whatcha waitin’ fer?


Bruce Corbitt addresses some of my issues, and I am printing his response (with his permission) as I feel he has many valid points in reference to what I said, and I am very thankful to him:

In all honestly, we didn't have a huge female fan base back in that period or up until Part 1 ended (in 1987). Plus, none of our ex-girlfriends, Mike's ex-wife, old female fans or friends from that era could have made any significant contribution to our story. I did interview a lot of folks... and only used what we thought was best.

You are also right about the old VHS footage not being the greatest, but that's all we had to work with and it was better showing it than not showing it. I don't think we made the claim that we were the only non-hair metal band that mattered...we just don't have time to go into everyone's story in the documentary. But we did mention some of them and some were in the film. We plan on making The Birth of the DFW Metal Underground after we finish Part 2 of the Rigor doc.

Another thing you were right about is I did decide to blow off The Birth of the DFW Metal Underground film to make just a Rigor story in honor of my brother Mike Scaccia. He was born in Babylon, but was raised and lived in Texas pretty much all of his life.

Anyway, we are working on Part 2 now and it will be way crazier, and in my opinion, better than Part 1.