Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Cosmic Payback

Dale Ward (Pop)
Track: The Queen of Japan (Gojo Records, 2008)

Ladies and gentlemen...Elvis has well and truly left the building. By that I mean: my Japanese queen has departed the scene.

I loved her, and still do, though our passion finally burned itself out atop a cathartic bonfire of recrimination.

She did me wrong, folks. But in most respects I don’t feel so hard done by. I always knew she needed to run away to find her. Maybe in the grand scheme of things it’s cosmic payback. I’m the first to admit I’ve caused my share of emotional woes.

Perched on my barstool I observe myself - as if in a dream - broken and rudderless, searching in all the wrong corners for meaning and diversion.

Hostage now to the whims of the pub jukebox, I muse how funny 'tis that familiar songs take on new meanings as they reflect yer splintered emotions.

F'r instance, The Beatles’ Rubber Soul - a record I’ve delighted in thousands of times - assumes shattering, surprising nuances.

Each lyric is, as Ringo would say, an absolute arrow to the brain: “Baby I love you," because “If I needed someone, you’re the one that I’d be thinking of.” But now “I’m looking through you,” wondering “What goes on in your mind?” I’m angry and hurt, so “You’d better run for your life if I see you with another man.”

Most woundingly, “I once had a girl. Or should I say, she once had me?”

I suspect it may well be the latter.

Then Bono - of all people - comes crooning over the tannoy with valuable advice: “You gotta get yourself together/You’re stuck in a moment/And you can’t get out of it.”


I suddenly become aware that I'm babbling incoherently to myself, and the barmaid eyes me warily from behind the beer pump. "They say it's the first sign of madness," she admonishes.

It all fits in with the words of Kyoto popster Dale Ward - late of San Francisco's Handsome Poets - and his engaging ditty The Queen of Japan. This transplanted Brit places a dark obsession at the center of his universe and learns a hard lesson along the way.

Ward warbles and wah-wahs, and receives able support from Kyoto bluesman Alec Roberts - who steals the show with some atmospheric harp - and Canadian Scott Hoover on space guitar. If you have ever believed in a heavenly lie, or a red sky morning that's home and dry, this one's for you.

Listen: Dale Ward at Virb.com

Friday, May 16, 2008


Live: Sonny Rollins
Osaka Festival Hall

Tonight my friend Andy and I attended a concert by tenor sax legend. Sonny Rollins. Sonny has enjoyed a long, prolific career and is now, aged 77, truly one of the grand old men of jazz.

As Andy and I approached Festival Hall we were excited at the prospect of seeing this jazz titan in the flesh.

If anyone represents the mainstream tenor saxophone tradition, it’s Rollins. He’s the archetypal post-bop improviser with an inventive, resonant sound which has never gone out of favor.

Sonny’s resume reads like a who’s who of jazz. When you consider he has played and recorded with luminaries such as Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Thelonius Monk, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Max Roach, and Art Blakey, you realize that tonight you are in the presence of jazz royalty.

Tonight Sonny is appearing with his longtime band featuring his trombonist nephew Clifford Anderson, drummer Steve Jordan, percussionist Kimati Dinizuli, guitarist Bobby Broom and bassist Bob Cranshaw.

The opening number Sonny, Please has a loose Miles Davis Bitches Brew feel, with Bobby Broom contributing some tasty McLaughlinesque touches and Bob Cranshaw holding down a simple but effective bass line. It’s hypnotic fusion vibe is right up my alley and I wonder if we are going to be treated to more of the same.

Actually, no. It soon becomes apparent we’re in for an evening of straight-ahead jazz as the band trot out a succession of crowd-pleasing standards: They Say it’s Wonderful, In a Sentimental Mood, Someday I’ll Find You, Nice Lady.

Sonny prowls the stage like an amiable bear and occasionally stands sideways to the audience, holding his sax at arms length as if urging his band to join him on a journey of musical exploration.

But they never really take off. The band is, as you’d expect, highly accomplished, but the smorgasbord of overly polite post-bebop mixed with calypso-inflected rhythms feels a bit safe.

To make matters worse, the dourly cavernous Festival Hall hardly lends itself an intimate, jazzy ambiance. The overall feel is of a recital rather than a gig.

There are some highlights, though. Playing tenor sax requires great physical exertion, and at 77, Sonny rips off several of the fleet, expressive solos which are his trademark. The band are tight and tasteful, fashioning a nicely deconstructed version of Serenade which features some exquisite guitar/bass interplay.

Sonny’s best-known composition St. Thomas, elevated into a jazz standard on his classic Saxophone Colossus album, is predictably hauled out as the final number and the crowd equally predictably goes bananas as its famous signature melody echoes through the rafters.

When Sonny steps out for his encore, for one delicious moment Andy and I think he’s going to treat us to a solo piece. Alas it’s not to be and the band join him for a spirited version of Why Was I Born?

There aren’t many be-bopping septuagenarians - Ornette excepted - who can hold a crowd’s attention like Sonny, and the Japanese audience gives him a rapturous send-off, showing a deep affection for Sonny the man and the musician.

Maybe they were thinking the same as us - that this jazzy genius, who has made a vast contribution to America's greatest art form, may not be around much longer, so let's enjoy him and pay tribute while we can. We saw the legend, and for that we’re all grateful and appreciative.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

I Can See Clearly Now

Track: Unidentified Ambient Music
Baptist Eye Clinic,
Kyoto, Japan.

One week ago I took the plunge and had LASIK eye surgery. Although in the week leading up to the operation I was excited and confident, on the day of the procedure I was pretty nervous.

As I lay on the operating table with green lasers burning my cornea, my knuckles tightened and I was thinking, “I sure wish they’d play some relaxing music!”

Right on cue a calming ambient piano etude came wafting through the room.

Under normal circumstances that style wouldn’t have been my bag – it was a tad too George Winston/Wyndham Hill for my tastes – but under the circumstances I was prepared to cut some slack and the music's bland, spacey vibe definitely helped bring down my stress levels.

It provided a suitable accompaniment to the awesome and slightly daunting laser light show which was erupting on my retinas. Fiery sparks of green mingled with flashes of red, and I almost forgot the fact that I was undergoing a life-changing and slightly risky medical procedure.

Lasik surgery isn’t something which should be entered into lightly. I did a great deal of research - over a ten-year period - before making the decision to go ahead and I had a fairly realistic set of expectations. So far I've been impressed with the professionalism and support of my caregivers.

It’s now been a week since my operation and my prognosis is excellent. My eyeglasses are history and, as Johnny Nash sang in his 1972 pop-reggae classic, I Can (for the most part) See Clearly Now.

VIDEO: Here's Johnny Nash giving a fine vocal performance on his classic hit. He's also sporting some splendid leather threads. The backing orchestra doesn't seem entirely comfortable with the reggae vibe.