Federico Fellini – 8½

A mad cinematic moment of uncertainty at the height of creative ability and success…

Commencing with the nightmarish traffic shot of silent, hemmed-in despair, and ever after that open to dream, suggestion and imagination, this is the culmination of a kind of cinema we’ll never see again. The era of Cinecitta, of oligarchic producers and fabulous set pieces and swirling arrays of extras, littered with personal recollection, wish fulfilments and fear. And total dubbing. And wholly personal, boyish, poetically inventive direction. I love that his critic-character, besides spouting an endless bilge of intellectual clichés (all of the time), states early on that his film is nothing more than a sequence of disconnected scenes — a film about filmmaking must employ self-criticism at some point, and when he talks about the failure of a scene with the dream-girl at the therapeutic springs, which we’ve just seen, well, it’s significant that it doesn’t deflate the narrative at all. And of course the critic hangs later on (how could he not see that coming). Continue reading “Federico Fellini – 8½”

Duke Ellington – Blues in Orbit

There's a tendency to think of the Blues as an easy genre for amateur guitarists and old black singers with lotsa heartbreak, an all-too-familiar vernacular riddled with cliches and guitar faces.

But jazz did manage to do something amazing with the blues, with swing and the blues together. And it was The Duke who turned the blues into a truly sophisticated art form beyond three chords — into a complex, composed and supremely flexible art form. First he made an ensemble of distinct voices, and then scored them with adventurous elaborations of the blues mood. There’s not a single three-chord progression on this album; just superlative little pockets of blues in and around three minutes in length. Moody chords and warm solos. Hodges in fine, clear form. Nance, Carney, Strayhorn, all in compact/expansive jazz miniatures. Laid-back, lively and amazingly free with the genre, really putting the format out there, composing by tonal band colours with a supreme understanding and mastery and brevity. Not a cliché to be found.

Duke Ellington — Blues in Orbit. 1958, Columbia.

The Necks – live in Dublin

I consider it my patriotic duty to pay witness to the greatest Australian band (in the field of improv) whenever I can.

After more than five years of fandom, I should get frequent Necking points, or maybe even a sunhat. It was a piece of luck that I heard about the gig — there is a small centre devoted to improv music here in Dublin — which in itself is heartening. The tickets were just raffle stubs. I tried to get some colleagues excited and inarested to no avail. But the music, the music. I was kinda keen at one point to catch the opinion of the Germans sitting behind us (Das is Motorik, ja?), but I stopped caring. What’s the point when you’re listening to the sound of creation? The performance contour hasn’t changed much (still in the mode of the last studio and live albums); the improv is startlingly unique every time though actually quite consistent in range: Lloyd’s looping 4/4 riffs, Abraham’s asynchronous drones bordering on mental despair at the top of your head, and the superlative percussion work of Tony Buck — probably the greatest percussionist in his field. You tend to forget there’s more to rhythm and percussion than just hitting things. Tony scrapes, scratches, taps, tickles and trawls an astounding variety of sounds from a limited kit. First cymbals, then a ratchet ‘round the snare rim, a hand (or suspended, or China) cymbal running over the floor tom to make a crusty old machinic sound, a brush of tindersticks tightly packed, now agitating a bunch of brass bells with his foot as though crockery’s being stacked somewhere in the distance — all the while pacing and slowly evolving the pattern and the syncopated growth. The total percussionist as artist, he is. It’s amazing to see a band who not only have immense respect for each other’s musical space and interplay, but who take an almost infinite care with the texture of improvisation. I sat three metres away from Buck in humble thrall. If only writing could be like this, I asked a mind thrown back on itself and which answered It is, it already is when you consider the creation of it. It’s in the care and attention to detail, the controlled permutation, the seemingly organic growth. That tension of control and freedom chaos, the seeming freedom which obscures a complex ability. The joy of ordered play in seeming-chaos — so refreshing compared to the at-times wilful chaos of Dublin. And that charmingly off-guard surprise and casual bewilderment as they walk offstage to the cheering and totally tuned audience. Jubilance at shared creation. Chuffed smiles.

The Necks live at the Bank of Ireland Arts Centre, Dublin, 25.11.04

Partagas Churchill de Luxe

A monster of a cigar, like a grandiose and overweight statesman… so much smoke you have to sit down and shudder your jowls.

Truly, an obscene amount of tobacco. I’ve never smoked a Cuban this big before; it’s like smoking a cannon. But what an experience. Easier on the draw and subtly stronger than Romeo y Julietas, it actually changes, in terms of smoking experience, in the course of the full 50 minutes it takes to consume. On the third puff especially, about a third of the way in, there’s like a forest fire of action at the tip. The operative word, though, is powerfully smooth. In a very big way. Maybe not so strong on nicotine highs (unlike the headache-inducing hit of Flagship rollies), but a complete tobacco experience nonetheless, almost exhausting; I feel I’ve reduced my life expectancy by several weeks. Word up to Olav Huslid for bringing me this behemoth smoke, and word to the finer things and qualities in life, especially the ones that demand time.