Drop the Ego, Spread the Eagle.
Words About Music Without Words (Basin Blog #15)
…And we’re back! With another edition of WAMWoW (#15 to be exact). Thank you for joining me. Holy crap, Winter’s finally here. I hope it’s warm where you are.
In the spirit of year-end festivities, I thought I would participate in the much-loved tradition of making some sort of list! Everyone loves lists, right? But instead of a Best of the Year type of thing, I decided to make this damn blog live up to its name for once and focus strictly on instrumental music. That is still a pretty broad category, though. I didn’t even touch classical music, and the jazz albums I picked are only the tip of the iceberg. I am almost positive that I’ve forgotten someone essential, but this list is not meant to be a comprehensive history of all instrumental music. These are the albums that have most influenced me personally; I’m sure if you asked the other members of B&R they would each have a completely different list. The thing these albums all have in common for me is that each one is so singular in vision and expression that it defies whatever genre it might be placed in and forces you to hear music in a new way. This all depends on timing, so some things might hit you more or less hard than they hit other people. These are the instrumental albums that have hit me the hardest, for one reason or another (in no particular order).
WAMWoW’s Top 15 Most Influential Instrumental Albums of All-Time!
John Coltrane - A Love Supreme (1965)
I think I must have been in 7th grade when I first heard this album, and it changed my life forever. That’s true of most of the albums on this list, but this one in particular blew open my concept of what music was up until that point. I could not wrap my head around what he was doing with his horn, and it made me keep coming back to try and understand. I still don’t understand, but I keep coming back and I find something new every time.
Daft Punk - Homework (1997)
When I was a kid my sister and I would stay up super late in the Summer to watch the amazing late-night music shows on MTV. That’s right. I know it sounds crazy now, but I remember a day when MTV played music. GOOD music, too. Not during the day, though. You had to wait until late at night for shows like 120 Minutes and Amp. I’m going to sound like an old person now, but this was before the internet, you guys. You couldn’t just look up any music you wanted to hear any time you wanted. So my sister and I would stay up until the wee hours of the morning, eating chips and salsa, drinking massive amounts of Coke, and hoping they would play our favorite videos. Our favorite of all time was probably “Around the World.”
The Mahavishnu Orchestra - The Inner Mounting Flame (1971)
I, like a lot of people, discovered John McLaughlin through the Miles Davis records he played on. That lead me to the Shakti albums (which are amazing) and, of course, the virtuosic Mahavishnu Orchestra. The combination of precision and expressiveness make this one of the great prog-rock albums of all time. These are five musicians in their absolute prime. This is kind of a world-wide supergroup, with each member being from a different country. Each individual playing style blends into something that is truly amazing and unlike anything before or since. Face-melting doesn’t even begin to describe tracks like “The Noonward Race.”
Duke Ellington - The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse (1975)
Big Band music has always been important to me. Growing up just a few blocks from my Grandparents house, I would hear the old Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman records whenever I went over to their house. When I started playing saxophone in 6th grade, I really got in to Big Band music, and by the time I was in 8th grade I was allowed to play with the high school jazz band. After that I played in a Big Band every year for the rest of the time I was in school, all the way through junior high, high school and college. When I first heard Duke Ellington I realized that everything I thought I knew about Big Band music didn’t account for this. This music is so simple, so nuanced, so funky, and so DIRTY. This music is raw, dangerous, defies genres, and is played by a HUGE band. What more could you want?
Medeski Martin & Wood - Combustication (1998)
This is one of those albums that snuck up on me. I had no idea who MMW were when I first went away to college at Eastern Washington University in 1999. I made friends with the weirdos of the music school, and inevitably someone put this album on one night. I was not prepared for what came out of the speakers. This album is funky and experimental at the same time. The combination of acoustic instruments with DJ Logic’s turntable trickery makes for some super-trippy musical moments that heavily influenced early Basin & Range.
Electric Masada - At the Mountains of Madness (2005)
My introduction to John Zorn’s immense catalogue was kind of late. By the time I first heard the Masada recordings, he had already recorded approximately seven thousand albums under various different project titles. All of it is worth listening to at least once. Some of it is… shall we say, less than easy listening? Electric Masada is a good bridge between the melodic side and the just plain batshit crazy side of John Zorn. This album takes the traditional Jewish influence of the Masada Quartet and mixes it with the experimental sounds of more avant garde Zorn projects, like Hemophiliac and Naked City. And they do this all live. This is challenging music, not recommended for listening to while sitting in traffic. Sit down in a calm place with headphones and the willingness to be taken on a chaotic journey for this one.
The Budos Band - self-titled (2005)
This album was given to me by a DJ friend who told me it was the new hot shit. When I put it on I was blown away: this sounds exactly like a lost recording of a fucking amazing Ethiopian Afro Soul band from the 60s. But on repeated listenings you start to hear all the little nuances, the way these guys are working with a time-tested recipe and creating their own innovations constantly. The Budos Band was easily one of my favorite bands when Basin & Range was asked to open for them at the WOW Hall in Eugene, back in 2010. That was an amazing honor and remains one of the highlights of my musical career. Their albums are all equally great and equally simply self-titled.
Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma (2010)
I initially wasn’t going to put anything as recent as 2010 on this list, as it seems like not enough time has passed to determine how influential an album released three years ago truly is, but this album screamed out to me as so far ahead of it’s time that, though its impact has not been fully felt, it is bound to send ripples through the music world for years to come. FlyLo is a psychedelic guru of sorts, a master of thwarting expectations. His ability to combine huge electronic sounds with organic intimacy and rhythmic playfulness makes this album better every time you listen to it, no matter what state of mind you’re in.
Orbital - In Sides (1996)
Orbital is another group I first saw on Amp, on late-night MTV. Their video for “The Box” featured a strange-looking woman walking slowly through a cityscape that was moving all around her at hyper speed. It is a fantastic video and you should stop reading this right now and go look it up if you haven’t seen it. That video inspired me to buy this album, and my mind was subsequently opened up to a whole new world of electronic music. I had no idea that “computers and drum machines” could sound like this. Up until this point I had thought of electronic music mainly as shitty Techno that assholes listened to. And not just assholes, but drugged-up assholes, because there was no way to enjoy electronic music unless you were high as an astronaut. But this album changed all that for me. This is the first album that showed me that electronic music could be emotional. Along with Homework, this album taught me that the computer was just another instrument to be used in creating music. How you use it is where the artistry comes in.
The Don Ellis Orchestra - Electric Bath (1967)
This is another one of those albums that I was introduced to my first year of college. As I said before, Big Band music has always been one of my passions, but I had never heard it like this before. This is as psychedelic as Big Band music gets. Don Ellis and his band are technical masters, playing in ridiculously complicated time-signatures and combining Indian Classical music with Jazz. Ellis was so into Indian music that he had a special trumpet built for him that had four valves (instead of the usual three), the fourth enabling him to play a quarter-tone between any two half-steps of a Western scale. For the song “Turkish Bath,” which also featured sitar, an instrument capable of micro-tones, Ellis had the woodwinds tune their instruments a quarter-tone apart, resulting in an extremely abrasive and, if you like that kind of thing, fucking delicious sound. This is one of my favorite records of all time.
ediT - Crying Over Pros for No Reason (2004)
This album sounds like alien robot insects scurrying around on the periphery of your consciousness. This is still unlike anything else I’ve ever heard. I have no idea how he made it. If you do, please send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get to the bottom of this. But, to tell you the truth, I kind of don’t want to know. This album is strangely magical in a cold, digital way, but there is a warmth that runs through it that ties it all together.
Bonobo - Dial ‘M’ for Monkey (2003)
This album was my introduction to Bonobo, and so remains my favorite of his albums. I love the simplicity of these songs, and the feelings he’s able to conjure with so much space. There is a minimalist sensibility here, even when there’s a lot going on. This album is a perfect blend of acoustic elements with a ton of looping and a laid-back hip-hop feel overriding the whole thing.
Jaga Jazzist - A Livingroom Hush (2001)
Jaga Jazzist has been one of my favorite bands since the first time I heard them. I would put all their albums on this list, but it wouldn’t be fair. I picked this one because it is the first one I heard, and I think it’s a good place to start if you’ve never heard them before. For those of you who don’t know, Jaga Jazzist is a Norwegian band founded by brothers Lars and Martin Horntveth and consisting of a huge rotating cast of musicians. They are most likely the greatest band in the world today. As I said before, all their albums are golden, so you can’t really go wrong. This one is great, though, and was particularly influential in shaping B&R’s sound in the early days.
Tortoise - TNT (1998)
Tortoise remains one of the great bands of all time. They sincerely do not give a fuck about anything but the music and it shows. This is the album that got me into their music and I have been a die hard fan ever since. This is probably their most accessible album and is perfect for around 4AM when the party has dwindled down to a few brave souls who need their heads soothed a little before bedtime by some beautifully minimal yet complex rhythms. For more upbeat Tortoise albums, try Standards and It’s All Around You, both mind-alteringly amazing.
Miles Davis - Bitches Brew (1970)
Well, what can I say about Bitches Brew that hasn’t already been said? As everyone knows, this is without a doubt one of the great albums of all time. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to hear this for the first time back in 1970. I think I would have laughed, and then cried, and then peed my pants and forgot my name. Miles Davis was way out ahead, blazing the trail for everyone his entire career, and to me this album is the pinnacle of his expression as an artist. He was able to create the necessary voodoo or whateverthefuck in the studio to get some truly magical performances out of all the incredible musicians on this album. This is 100% improvised; Miles wouldn’t even let the musicians have notes in the studio. He was a tyrant, but he launched dozens of careers and managed to stay two steps ahead of everyone else until the end of his life. After you revisit this one, go back and remind yourself how good Kind of Blue and Birth of the Cool are.
* * *
So that’s it everyone. If you want to point out any of the amazing instrumental bands that I left out in my ignorance or absent-mindedness, please hit us up on Twitter. If you’re just going to tell me that Combustication isn’t an instrumental album because it has a song on it with a vocal sample, don’t bother. I think we all know the rules are loose around here.
I hope you enjoyed this edition of WAMWoW! I’ll be back with some band news and a continuation of the countdown to our New Year’s show in about a week.
Thanks for listening (and reading),
Words About Music Without Words (Basin Blog #14)
Hello and thanks for guiding your computer or phone or tablet or Oculus Rift or whatever to WAMWoW #14! Actually, that would be kind of a weird use for an Oculus Rift. I mean, maybe I’m wrong. WAMWoW can be a total sensory-immersion type of thing sometimes. Just go with it, I guess. I don’t want to ruin your trip. “Ride the Snake,” as Carl would say.
Speaking of snakes… I’m just kidding; I don’t have a snake transition. But if I did it would creep up on you silently and before you know it… it would be wrapped around your throat! Just like the holidays! Ohohoho! That’s right, folks. We find ourselves in that time of year where we decide to get stressed out for no reason and party harder than normal to make up for it! And the last (and best, in my opinion) party of the season is… you guessed it: New Year’s Eve! And, as Carl alluded to last week, there is indeed going to be a killer show at the Speakeasy (that’s Oak Street Speakeasy, for any non-Eugenians). And, as if this hasn’t been enough needless buildup (seeing as how you have undoubtedly already seen the flier), the killer show in question is going to be… the debut of our new set!
That’s right: Our first show in over a year! If you find yourself in Eugene on New Year’s Eve, we would love to spend the evening with you. This will be our first show as a quintet after adding Mr. Swan Burton on drums. As frequent readers of the blog will know, we’ve spent the last few months writing a lot of new music. We’ll be playing around an hour of music that no one but us has ever heard, along with a few old gems that you might recognize.
We will be joined on this auspicious night by a new moon as well as local electronic favorites Hamilton Beach who will be kicking off music for the evening. We play next and will be counting down and ringing in the new year. Closing the night will be dance floor alchemist Pondape from Portland.
How much would you expect to pay for a night of great music like this? Well, put your wallet away, because this is a FREE show! In fact, this is probably the only free New Year’s show in Eugene, because that’s how we roll.
Find out all the details anyone could ever possibly need to know on our Facebook event page and then invite all your friends and buy them each a drink because, goddammit, they’ve put up with your shit for the last year and there’s no time like the present to let them know how much they mean to you! We have been looking forward to this night for a long time. We’ve been playing music under the B&R banner for almost 9 years now, and we want to celebrate the newest manifestation with you crazy fools! Thanks for hanging in there with us through all our transitions, blundered and otherwise, over the years. We love what we do and it’s because of you that we keep doing it. Thank you for choosing to listen to our music when there is so much amazing music out there to choose from.
If you know someone else who might also enjoy our music, why not point them towards basinandrangeband.com, where they can download all our music, watch our music videos, follow our tour schedule, and even read this very blog? Also, let them know that they can follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and SoundCloud. And then bring them to our New Year’s show and buy them a drink, as mentioned earlier. Also, make sure you have them read this first so they will buy you a drink, and so on, ad infinitum.
Thanks for listening (and reading),
Words About Music Without Words (Basin Blog #13)
Hello dear friends, and welcome to WAMWoW #13! This week brings us more correspondence from our intrepid explorer, Blind Carl himself. It seems his Burning Man journey led him to the South, and specifically New Orleans, that most haunted of American cities, where he found himself on Halloween. The following is the transcription of an audio postcard from a cassette tape (yep) which I received in the mail yesterday.
Thanks for listening (and reading),
* * *
… [garble] and I couldn’t fucking believe it, man. It finally made sense: Terrapin Station. Ter-ra-pin. Trrrrrrrriiiiiiipppppppiiiiiinnnnnnn! Haha! Oh, is this recording now? Cool, man. Thanks.
Hey there, bros and sisses! This is your old friend Blind Carl broadcasting live on tape from the only place to be on Halloween: New Orleans! It has been a crazy journey since I last spoke with you. Oh yeah. By the way, whatever speculations Mark may have made about my, uh… paternity? That’s all bullshit, bro. Yeah, of course I don’t write my own postcards. I’m fucking blind, you guys. We’ve been over this before. So that means I found my long lost daughter? Come on. Quit being so sentimental. Old Carl’s been around the block a few times, and that ain’t how shit works. The girl who wrote that postcard for me worked in the Black Rock City post office. She smelled like patchouli and smacked her gum.
There are so many stories from Burning Man that I don’t even know where to begin. It’s all kind of a blur YOUKNOWWHATI’MSAYING!!?!?? HAHAAHAAAH!!!! Ha! Heh! He. Heh. Hum. Ahem. [coughing]
I will say this: A man was burned, and that man was me! YOUKNOWHATI’MSAYING!!!?? Ohohohhohoo! But seriously. I got pretty badly sunburnt. I had a tube of what I thought was sunscreen, but it was just lotion. It was a real Mr. Magoo moment. Classic. Then I went for a walk and ended up on a skyscraper that was under construction, but I didn’t even realize it. I was just walking around on beams and almost falling off, but them a platform would swing into place right under my foot. Crazy.
So I don’t know, man. YOU go to Burning Man and tell ME about it. It’s the craziest shit you can imagine, aside from where I’m at right now! NOLA is maybe my favorite place on Earth aside from the BCD. They know how to party here. And I’m not talking about that Bourbon Street drunken fratboy tourist asshole bullshit! No way! I’m talking about the greatest food and music in the world! And on Halloween shit be crazy. I can’t really navigate the huge crowds all that well in my old age, so I’m sitting out on the patio of this absinthe bar on Esplanade. They’re showing a super violent Japanese horror film on the screen out here that sounds real splattery.
Real talk: sometimes I wish I could see, you guys. Like, I can’t even see all the costumes around me, which I’m sure are the illest. Like, there might be real zombies out there and who would know? Well, I guess you’d know right before you got your brain eaten out of your skull, but I bet right up until that last moment you’d be thinking, “Now that is a super sick costume, bro.” Such is life in New Orleans, y’all. Don’t come down here if you can’t take the heat. Oh, that reminds me. I didn’t even tell you my costume yet: I’m the devil, bud. Want to make a deal? MUAHAHHAAHAHAHA! AHAHAH! AHahaha. Aha. Hah. Hem. Hehhh. Hehhhhhh. [coughing]
But seriously, do you want to make a deal? I need to get back to the Pacific Northwest, and I done run out of money quite awhile ago. Anything would help. And I’m not above being your human slave in exchange. Once we get there I’ll cook you up some mean macaroni and chili, and while it’s heating up, I’ll rub your feet. Or whatever. Anyway, the point is, Uncle Carl’s broke. I’m going to start a Non-Profit to fund my trip back to the BCD with the profits from my other Non-Profit, Blind Carl’s Pizza Fund. I know it sounds complicated, but you leave the economics to me.
Well I gots to get goin, y’all. I hope this tape finds you good and scared. It’ll probably be after Halloween when you read this, seeing as how it’s Halloween right now as I’m talking. As soon as I’m done here I’ll just slap a stamp on this old cassette, thank Ron, the bartender who had this old cassette recorder, and drop this shit in a mailbox. You might say, “Carl, why don’t you have your own recorder?” To which I would reply, “I travel light, baby.”
Thanks for listening to the ravings of an old blind weirdo. Thanks to Mark for typing this up. I hope it has been informative for you all. I am going to try my best to be in Eugene for New Year’s, everyone! I heard there’s going to be a killer show at the Speakeasy…