Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

January 2, 2010

JANDEK, “Camber Sands Sunday” (Corwood CD 0800)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 4:42 pm

JANDEK. “Camber Sands Sunday.” (Corwood CD 0800)

Although he has a feature film about him and a discussion list devoted to him (which everyone should join, by the way—lots of essential info on a daily basis from people who know and care), it’s not as if Jandek’s albums are getting a lot of analysis and commentary. His latest solo studio album, WHAT WAS OUT THERE DISAPPEARED, has not generated much interest (and one semi-regular Jandek commentator wrote it off!), even though it’s got lots of strong poetic lyrics and the guitar work is more than ever before in the service of the material—one moment I’m reminded of koto playing then African highlife guitar then Robbie Basho then one of the more idiosyncratic Delta bluesmen from the 20s such as Ishman Bracey or Buddy Boy Hawkins, but it’s always 100% Jandek, and he’s probably not being influenced by any of these. Or maybe he is. It doesn’t matter. The result is what matters. And the result is fascinating and takes me completely into the artist’s world. As it has since I first heard his work circa 1984 when Byron Coley and Chris Stigliano recommended it to me.

This new live album, “CAMBER SANDS SUNDAY,” is stunning…and a great introduction to the pleasures of the live Jandek experience. It was recorded on the final day of the 2006 “All Tomorrow’s Parties” festival in England, with Richard Youngs (bass guitar), Alex Neilson (drums), who’d by this time done four shows as Jandek’s rhythm section (I think…). It’s also his 62nd album in 31 years. Jandek’s live shows have continued to evolve in the five years since that famous “first show” in Scotland (where he was backed by Youngs and Neilson). In some of the concerts he’s truly just one member of an improvisational ensemble, losing himself in a collective experience. One of the things I admire most about him as an artist is the way he will throw himself completely into a NEW artistic experience, a new group of musicians playing different instruments than he’s used to, and put himself into a sink-or-swim situation…and this creative tension forces him to rise to the occasion and to bring out new aspects of his art. I would bet he’s surprising himself with these kind of performances with odd groupings of musicians and the occasional dancer or spoken-word artist, and that that surprise is fueling him as an artist and exciting him as a person, which like a perpetual motion machine is keeping him going, allowing him to advance up to new and even higher levels (note: I’ve had the privilege of speaking with six different musicians who have performed with The Corwood Representative and have found that perspective to be really valuable). 

That’s been happening more SINCE 2006, when Camber Sands was recorded, however. At this 2006 concert, we have Jandek with a sympathetic rhythm section, and like a rhythm section that would back, say, a Lightnin’ Hopkins or a John Lee Hooker, they adapt themselves to the artist’s flow and provide a kind of pillowy environment or canvas on which he can do his thing. To give you an analogy from the free jazz world, some of the recent Jandek performances since 2006 are more like The Spontaneous Music Ensemble or AMM, while the shows such as Camber Sands are more like Archie Shepp’s rhythm section backing him on a 40-minute version of “Three For a Quarter, One for a Dime.”  That’s not a totally accurate analogy, but I hope you see what I mean (and for what it’s worth, the live HELSINKI SATURDAY, with Jandek on piano, playing alongside a harpist—and that’s harp as in Harpo Marx, not as in Little Walter—was my most-played album of 2009, providing the beyond-time meditative purity of the music of Morton Feldman or some of the more minimal John Cage “number pieces”).

The new Camber Sands album features some tracks oriented around Sonny Sharrock-esque splatter guitar, while other tracks are more spacy and with a lot of echo applied. The track I’m listening to right now, “My Party,” has a choppy, gurgling bass and drums creating a tense, jittery backdrop for Jandek’s balls-to-the-wall, “I Heard Her Call My Name”-style psychedelic guitar, with passages of narrative about attending a party with panthers and then getting disappointed by someone who gave him a green light…and then walked away. As usual for a Jandek performance, there is a mixture of seemingly matter-of-fact observations of daily life (which are so well chosen to be, for me, the highest order of  “deep image” poetry), left-field but on-target catalogs of things and found speech, and philosophical asides. Anyone who has seen him live knows the notebook he brings onstage, containing lyrics written especially for that particular gig. This trio also knows how to use space, how to create the musical equivalent of shadows. In short, like any Jandek album, live or studio, CAMBER SANDS SUNDAY is an intellectually challenging, sonically challenging, completely unique artistic experience that creates its own world and takes us into it and changes us.

Truly, being prolific causes people to take an artist’s work for granted. If Jandek alternated live and studio albums, and just put one out every two years, they’d be given more attention by the wider community (note: there ARE hundreds of people who listen carefully to each album when it’s released, and who play and get to know each new offering for months after it comes out–I don’t mean to suggest that that is NOT happening, just not happening as much as it should). As someone who runs a small press that has issued 155 poetry chapbooks in 4 years, I know what Jandek is facing, but in the immortal words of John Lee Hooker, if it’s in you, then it’s got to come out, and we should count ourselves fortunate that Jandek/The Corwood Representative has been offering up artistic prime cuts so often for so long. Think of the huge bodies of work offered up by, say, Steve Lacy or Warhol or Jesus Franco or Fassbinder or Anthony Braxton or Woody Allen or Picasso. Jandek is an artist cut from that cloth. I consider it a privilege to live in a world where people like the ones mentioned above offer so much to us, and ask no more than the purchase price of an album or a movie ticket or an art exhibition. That kind of generosity is truly inspiring, and when the work itself is also cutting-edge and inspiring and mind-blowing (in the highest sense of that term—-mind-blowing like Dennis Hopper’s THE LAST MOVIE), it’s the kind of thing that makes life worthwhile…for me, at least.


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