Welcome to Big Ears: Be prepared to make a hard choice or two

Just a couple of years ago, Big Ears returned for the first time since Covid had caused a 2 year halt to the festival. Now the festival appears bigger than ever. The festival is now easily double the size it was the last time we attended in 2019. In addition to music, the festival has added authors and cinema to their impressive lineup. This makes it increasingly difficult to make decisions on who and what to attend. Dawn McCarthy from the group Faun Fables asked audience members if they get any sleep and also made a comment on the difficulty she finds to switch emotionally and energetically from one experience to another. I, for one, share this challenge to jump from one experience into another without allowing my mind the time to settle and become ready to shift. It becomes very commonplace to see folks leaving one concert after only seeing a couple of songs to make it to the next show.  Chocolate Genius, Inc. made a comment that it’s something a performer has to get used to. He joked in the past if someone was leaving one of his concerts he would be inclined to follow the person out in the street and ask if everything was ok. This was made entirely in jest, but it does indicate a shift in attitudes about how we think of an audience member walking out during a concert. The comment certainly stems from what now must be an obsolete idea that walking out in the middle of a concert is extremely rude.

Evan Lurie quintet performing at Big Ears

I suppose one grows accustomed to moving along. growing a bit numb to the terrain. One might describe the experience as riding a horse that refused to be tamed. Those of us who grew up in the 90’s can recall a similar experience (at Lollapalooza or similar festivals) when the artists were restricted in how long they were able to perform. You might see an act like P-Funk who normally performed for 3 hours being limited to 45 minutes. If the artist can become accustomed to folks leaving their sets after 3 songs and subsequent departures along the way (with very few new folks entering into the show) it does allow the artist to perform their entire sets without the time constraints. As an audient, the biggest drawback comes when hard choices are needed to be made. Believe it or not, it wasn’t even as to whether or not I could see John Paul Jones or Digable Planets (sadly, I wasn’t able to watch either), it was more so having to choose between 3 acts I dearly wanted to see each of (Kokoroko, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and Elliott Sharp with Eric Mingus) The choice at the time never became clear to me to watch 15 minutes of each and scurry to the other set as there would be too much time lost walking from concert to concert of each of the 3 groups. I had to make a more rational choice and view Faun Fables as a consolation for Sleepytime and Void Patrol as a consolation for E# and Eric Mingus. Looking back I think I made the right choice. You simply cannot see everything.

Because each of the aforementioned groups were high on my list of shows I wanted to attend, it just seemed inexcusable to water them down in any way. Another choice that was very difficult was leaving the Herbie Hancock concert early. His group was on fire. We were seated way up in the rafters, but the energy was pure fire. His group included Terrance Blanchard on trumpet and they played excellent versions of Rock-it, Chameleon and the song Footprints in a dedication to the late Wayne Shorter. However, we were on a mission to see Shabaka Hutchings and even though it was at the haunted Bijou theater, we arrived in time to get seats in the lower level and that somehow made the venue a bit more palatable (the balcony is kind of creepy and obviously haunted). Shabaka didn’t disappoint, as his concert turned out to be my favorite of the entire festival. His new group isn’t as danceable as Sons of Kemet were, but what they lacked in the funk, they made up for in technique.

There were 3 concerts that hit hard in nostalgia for me. On opening night, the first concert I saw was the Very Very Circus, a group who’s original leader, Henry Threadgill, was very present at the festival, but was a member of the audience at the concert and not a performer with this group. I enjoyed this greatly along with the other repertory group Air, who were also founded by Threadgill. I did hear some rumblings of discontent from attendees that Threadgill was not in these groups, but I truly enjoyed these two offerings (even though I had to skip out a little early during Air in order to catch Evan Lurie). Both Very Very Circus and Air were spot on in their interpretations of music and it gave me an opportunity to see Brandon Ross (who’s Phantom Station I unfortunately missed). I soaked it up, much like I did when I had the opportunity to see Prime Time a few years back at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival (the 80’s group who backed up the late Ornette Coleman). The Prime Time group was after Mr. Coleman had passed away. Prime Time included Marc Ribot (who performed several times at this year’s Big Ears festival) filling in on guitar duties for the late Bern Nix. Regarding repertory ensembles, it should be noted that there is a certain standard to be met for performing these sets and in the case of Mr. Threadgill, I believe he may have had much to focus on in the concerts he performed in, including his group Zooid and along with Vijay Iyler and Danfis Prieto.

Very Very Circus performing at Big Ears Festival

Also performing was the ensemble of Henry Threadgill’s Make a Move, a show I unfortunately missed due to scheduling conflicts. 

Evan Lurie’s quintet was also very nostalgic for me. So much so, that when they began to perform songs from Selling water by the side of the river I began to cry. I was instantly transported back to the year 1990, when I first started working at The Record Exchange in Raleigh. I recalled a moment when I was telling my co-worker about how much I enjoyed the Lounge Lizards and particularly their recording Voice of Chunk. My co-worker, who has now sadly passed away, said he loved them too and asked if I’d heard the Selling Water record. I hadn’t yet heard that one and when we listened to it together I remember it making a very strong impression. The performance included Marc Ribot on guitar, Jill Jaffe on violin, Greg Cohen on bass and Julien Labro on bandoneon. Mr. Lurie was very entertaining in dialogue. He talked about how the performance came to be by mentioning when Big Ears initially contacted him he was in retirement and mentioned that the bandoneon player used in the music had passed away, thinking that was that. Mr. Lurie said he knew Big Ears was serious when they responded with a list of 5 bandoneon players in the New York area. He then explained how logistically challenging the project was as all of the musicians now live in different states and had the opportunity to rehearse together only one time (the day before the concert). He explained that he wasn’t able to attend this rehearsal as his flight had been delayed several times due to icy conditions in his home state of Massachusetts. Then he mentioned the next song was dedicated to his friend who had recently passed away and performed the song Terraces, this brought even more waterworks for me as I was having trouble holding it together. The only music I can really say that has touched me nearly as much as this recording did in my life was the Bantam  Orchestra’s Citrus, My Love when I witnessed the live rendering in Victoriaville, Quebec back in the 90’s.

Henry Threadgill’s Air Repertory Trio

I was walking down Gay street on Friday and ran into Henry Threadgill. He was very gracious and nice to speak with. The same can be said about Thurston Moore and his wife Eva, whom I said hello to on Thursday.

On Saturday, we went to see author Hanif Abdurraquib reading and talking about his new book There’s always this year
and to my surprise Henry Threadgill was at a table signing copies of his book Easily slip into another world along with co-author Brent Hayes Edwards. I was able to say hello again to Mr. Threadgill and pick up a signed copy of his book. 

Mr Abdurraquib came out wearing a long-embroidered coat and began reading from his new book. He is a recipient of the McArthur foundation genius grant. I was unfamiliar with his work, but quickly became a fan as his book was about basketball along with life experiences. After reading passages from his new book, he took questions, and I was mesmerized by how he could take a question and essentially turn it into artistic passages with his responses. One question came about his writing process and although I can’t do his response much justice, he basically said he writes when he is inspired to do so and not as an exercise. He felt writing as an exercise would dilute his craft and he is most interested in writing about events when he’s compelled to do so. He also took a question about expired words where he quickly deconstructed the question and spoke about a rock band who had started to write down words they no longer wanted to use in their songs and how he had done something similar after his first few books. Hanif also mentioned that he had conducted a Q&A with Chocolate Genius Inc., aka Marc Anthony Thompson earlier in the day and how much it had meant to him to speak with someone who’s music had meant so much to him. The night before I had been at the Chocolate Genius concert, and it was incredible. I can only imagine what Q&A session would’ve been like with the two of them on stage. 

Hanif Abdurraquib at the Knoxville Art Museum

In something of a contrasting note, when we went to see Faun Fables Dawn McCarthy mentioned it was the earliest show they think they’ve ever performed. Their performance started at 12:45pm. Later in the evening we saw Rhiannon Giddens (at 10pm) who said it was the latest show she had ever performed. The concerts of the two groups juxtaposed different renderings of folk music, with Faun Fables deeply rooted into the English folk style while Rhiannon Giddens is more into southern Appalachian style. For me they were like bookends on the day, neatly containing all of other events within day that we ended up seeing, along with other events we weren’t able to see.  

Something that became apparent to me was that a few of the artists enjoyed performing in bare feet. I’ve seen Fred Frith many times and have known he enjoys having his feet bare during his performances. I noticed Rhiannon Giddens and Chocolate Genius, Inc. like to play barefoot as well. All three of these folks should come together and record a version of Robert Parker’s song barefootin’. It would be a collaboration for the ages.

Chocolate Genius Inc., performing at the Bijou Theater at Big Ears Festival
Rhiannon Giddens performing at the Tennessee Theater at Big Ears Festival


Seeing Fred Frith and Elliott Sharp again brought back memories of Victoriaville from my first visit there in 1992. Back over 30 years ago, it was the place audiences would go to see a festival full of improvisational artists in North America. The Vancouver Jazz Festival (a festival I’ve never attended) held a similarly extensive lineup of artists but really didn’t assemble a grouping as compelling as Victoriaville did for me. I recall one year around 1995 when Kronos Quartet (who also performed at this year’s Big Ears festival but we weren’t able to see) were performing the music of Phillip Glass. I drove to Victoriaville and sowed some cannabis and my pipe  inside of my coat. I stopped at a hotel in New Hampshire right before the border on the way there. Opening the bathroom window, I decided to light up. Maybe I thought I was going to be discreet, but I wasn’t as I could hear the person staying in the adjacent room banging on wall as if to tell me to stop. Fortunately, they seemed to calm down after a while, but this made me very paranoid.

The next day I stitched my coat back up and headed to the Canadian border where my car was searched. I watched as they pulled out my belongings and looked through everything. Even though they looked through my coat, they didn’t seem to notice things being stitched into the lining. Perhaps what they were really searching for was a weapon of some sort and because they didn’t have dogs, I was allowed into Canada. Looking back at that now I see it as reckless, but it did allow for a fun festival at the time. I can remember taking a copy of the new Kronos Quartet record with me to the festival. I recall needing to return the next day after the festival ended to start summer school. The final concert of the festival ended probably around 8pm and I drove straight from Quebec to Raleigh, North Carolina without stopping. I didn’t really have any issues at the border like I did on the way up, so I played the Kronos Quartet recording over and over on the way home, stopping occasionally to fire up the cannabis or buy more coffee. It was around a 14 hour drive and I arrived in the afternoon and promptly went to sleep before Genetics 301 started the following day. It was a time when the hard choices didn’t exclude any events, as the biggest decision was whether or not I could attend a festival (in which I attended every concert in its entirety) and bring along some cannabis and go to summer school all in one springtime.

Fred Frith Drawing Sound featuring Heike Liss
Void Patrol at the Standard

Top Reissues of the past 10 years

I love new music! But, let’s face it. They don’t make it like they used to. Also, some of those original pressings are just stupid hard to find. In the spirit of saving record collectors thousands of dollars and in a nod to 10 yrs existence of this blog, please enjoy my favorite (vinyl) reissues of the past 10 years. I am numbering these, but they aren’t really in a specific order, just as I think of them. Some of these I actually own the OG copy, however so I’m kinda saying its a historical list, a list of records you should own either the OG or the reissue. 

  1. Fela-Roforofo Fight
  2. Tony Toni Tone-Sons of Soul
  3. ZNR-Barricade 3
  4. Alexander von Schlippenbach-Globe Unity
  5. Sun Ra-Lanquidity                                                                       
  6. William Onyeabor-Anything You Sow               
  7. Miles Davis-Dark Magus
  8. Hieroglyphics-3rd Eye Vision                                                                       
  9. Joe McPhee-Nation Time                                 
  10. The Upsetters-Super Ape                                                                           
  11. D’Angelo-Brown Sugar                                                                         
  12. Beastie Boys-Paul’s Boutique     
  13. Magma-Mekanïk Destruktïẁ Kommandöh     
  14. Etron Fou Leloublan-Les Trois Fou’s Perdégagnent   
  15. Dr. Octagon-Dr. Octagon
  16. KMD-Mr. Hood       
  17. John Coltrane, Alice Coltrane-Cosmic Music         
  18. African Head Charge-My Life in a Hole in the Ground 
  19. Iva Bittova-Bílé Inferno 
  20. Aksak Maboul-Un peu de L’Âme les bandits   
  21. The Ex + Tom Cora-Scrabbling at the Lock
  22. Scientist-Introducing Scientist, The Best Dub Album in the World
  23. Erykah Badu-Mama’s Gun
  24. A Tribe Called Quest-The Low End Theory     
  25. Bad Brains-Black Dots   
  26. Butthole Surfers-Locust Abortion Technician
  27. Mary J. Blige-My Life       
  28. La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela-Dream House 78’17”
  29. After Dinner-Paradise of Replica   
  30. Plastic People of the Universe-Egon Bundy’s Happy Hearts Club Banned
  31. Sonny Sharrock-Ask the Ages               
  32. Da Brat-Funkdafied
  33. Tom Waits-Rain Dogs
  34. Twinkle Brothers-Rasta Pon Top
  35. Terry Riley-Persian Surgery Dervishes
  36. Black Star-Mos Def and Talib Kweli are…
  37. Souls of Mischief-93 Til Infinity
  38. Hijrah-Truly Free/Time
  39. Ornette Coleman-To Whom Keeps a Record
  40. Cymande-Cymande
  41. Aretha Franklin-Sparkle     
  42. Raul Lovisoni/Franceso Messina-Prati Bagnati Monte Analogo
  43. Franceso Battiato-Pollution
  44. K. Leimer-Land of Look Behind
  45. The Fall-Live at the Witch Trials
  46. Charles Gayle-Touchin’ on Trane
  47. Sleepytime Gorilla Museum-Opening and Closing
  48. Guru-Jazzmatazz Vol. 1
  49. Peter Brötzmann Octet-Machine Gun
  50. Louis Moholo Octet-Spirits Rejoice                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Best of 2023 in reissues/unreleased back catalog titles.

  1. Plastic People of the Universe-Egon Bundy’s happy hearts club banned
  2. Les Rallizes Dénudés-67-69 Studio et live
  3. La Monte Young/Marian Zazeela-31 VII 69 10:26 – 10:49 PM / 23 VIII 64 2:50:45 – 3:11 AM The Volga Delta
  4. Ash Ra Temple-S/T
  5. Terry Riley & Don Cherry Quartet-WDR Radio, Koln, February 23, 1975
  6. Fela Kuti Box Set #6
  7. Steve Lacy, Andrea Centazzo, The Rova Saxophone Quartet-USA concerts/The Bay, Ictus archives Vol 1, Ictus archives Vol. 2
  8. Sonic Youth-Walls have ears
  9. The Veldt-Illuminated 1989
  10. Keith Hudson-Pick A Dub

10 year anniversary

Hey, what’s up fam? In December we’ll be celebrating the past 10 years of blogging, I don’t write much,,, I know so maybe its an afterthought or a celebration of a loose connection with the contents at strangeblood central station, but we try to never miss an opportunity to celebrate, so in my mind I want to acknowledge all of you dedicated readers out there with some bonus material. 

I usually try to do a bit of a slow roll out on my top records list, so that isn’t changing and you can expect a few more to be added. In addition, I want to go through my favorite reissues of the year. I think reissues are great. There continue to be quality reissues with more interest around vinyl. Some reissues are pretty debatable as to whether or not they really need to come out, but others are extremely necessary, even when the original manufacturer decides to remaster or just make more copies, because the original pressing didn’t account for current demands or whatnot. I’m grateful that I still feel like bangin’ on the keyboard for 10 years. 

My favorite records 2023 edition

  1. Blonde Redhead-Sit down for dinner 
  2. Aksak Maboul-Une aventure de VV
  3. African Head Charge-A trip to Bolgatanga
  4. Queen Omega-Freedom Legacy
  5. Lee Scratch Perry Bob Riddim-Destiny
  6. Andre 3000-New Blue Sun
  7. Nissi Ogulu-Unboxed
  8. Assiko Golden Band-de Grand Yoff
  9. Witch-Zango
  10. Brotzmann Bekkas Drake-Catching Ghosts
  11. Weltaal-Watoo
  12. Yussef Dayes-Black Classical Music
  13. Kassa Overall-Animals
  14. Talib Kweli Madlib-Liberation 2
  15. Don Kaput-I love tempo
  16. Idris Ackamoor & the Pyramids-Afro Futuristic Dreams
  17. Victoria Monét-Jaguar 2
  18. The Bridge-Beyond the margins
  19. Akira Sakata, Entasis-Live in Europe 2022
  20. Janelle Monae-The age of pleasure
  21. The Confederate Dead-Flamingo
  22. The Necks-Travel
  23. Peter Gabriel-i/o
  24. Elliott Sharp-The collapsed wave
  25. Laraaji-Kalimba
  26. Aja Monet-When the poems do what they do
  27. Brandon Ross-Of sight and sound
  28. Fred Frith-Atmospheres: Music for three films
  29. Kristin Hersh-Clear pond road
  30. Sexmob-The hard way

A reunion after 30 years

The year was 1992, or perhaps it was late winter of 1991. The date is of little consequence anymore. I had just gone to see Elvin Jones and his Jazz Machine perform at NCSU’s center stage. The band included Sonny Fortune and Ravi Coltrane. I went to the Reader’s Corner on Hillsborough St. and scored a copy of his record Poly Currents on vinyl. I remember taking it home and listening to it and thinking what a great record it was. I was probably hyping the concert to my room mates. I did that, I still do that. My room mate, the late Chris Whitson asked to borrow the record. I had only played it once, but I knew he loaned me records all the time too and so I said, “Sure” and handed the record to him. Months passed by and I didn’t think to ask him back for the record as maybe I had something on loan from him as well.

Then, the unthinkable happened. My friend didn’t come home one night. The next morning we heard our phone ringing. It was the police calling to say he had died that night from an overdose. That time haunted me for years. I tried to be somewhat the same, somewhat more mature, but I never could be the same again without my best friend. In a few weeks his brothers came and collected most of his belongings including his massive record collection. Those of us who were friends and room mates could’ve easily gone in and taken records from his collection, things he’d borrowed. I wanna say he also had my copy of Taj Mahal’s Giant Steps/Old Folks and Richard Hell’s blank generation, but those are just lost forever now. At the time, I was pretty shocked that I’d lost my friend and he actually wasn’t ever coming back. 

Flash forward 30 years. I still think about my lost friend and sometimes when I was thinking about him I wondered what ever became of his collection. Then I learned a record store had bought the collection. I followed them on social media and mentioned that a few of the records in the collection had belonged to me and some other friends (the drummer from our band noticed his copy of Nirvana’s Bleach in the collection). To be honest, some of what I was reading and learning was really weird. The record store kind of used his name to sell the records, and they really didn’t seem to sell them for the going rate you might buy them on discogs for either. The auction I saw had the records going for anywhere from double to triple the prices you could buy the same copies for on discogs, It all seemed a bit smarmy for them to lay on the admiration about him so they could make a buck, but I suppose capitalism allows people to market things however they want to. But one really cool thing happened besides the fact that after 30 years those records got to be in people’s hands again and listened to. That was, I got reunited with my copy of Elvin Jones’ Poly Currents. The cool thing is that they didn’t charge me a dime for it.

Love and cherish your friends and family. Hold them dearly. Memories live on, but they can’t substitute for the new ones you can create.

Official Collab for Cryptorastas nominated for Grammy

Of all of genres of music, reggae music commands a bold look into the future while holding on tightly to its early roots. ‘The Kalling'” is Kabaka Pyramid’s best record to date, and there’s no wonder that is in the running for Reggae album of the year along with mega stars Protege, Sean Paul and Shaggy. The Kalling contains many mega stars as guests including Damian “Junior Gong” Marley, Buju Banton, Stephen Marley and fellow Grammy nominee Protege. The Kalling has a big offering to fans of dancehall style. Pyramid sings “There’s a lot to be grateful for” and one thing I’m grateful for is that he’s released this uncompromising collection of songs with an uplifting message and hits hard musically.

Cryptorastas NFT Lauched on August 29th, 2021

Among all the highlights of the record is Mr. Rastaman featuring Tifa. The song is a love song and is a new direction for Pyramid. The song was an instant hit. Pyramid and Tifa have a knack for making their audience appreciate their chemistry in the song as Pyramid exclaims, “Me feeling dem so truthfully, me feeling we could start up a community”.  It’s a playful song that saunters as the beat hits and its just one of the bigger songs on the album.

Kabaka Pyramid Pixel Video by Cryptorastas

Another heavy hitter is the song Fade Away, featuring legendary Dancehall MC Buju Banton, who is know for his crossover style into hip hop, something Pyramid shares in common with Banton. Banton also an NFT offering and his unique lyrics and vocal stylings add to the songs strengths and show why he’s still a Dancehall King,

The albums begins with the song Mystik Man, where Pyramid sings “Mystic Man, Mystic Man, Stock some crypto I risk it man” The song also showcases Pyramid’s hip hop vocal styles paired with a sample of Peter Tosh from his song of the same title.  A song Tosh proclaims he’s “a man of the past and I’m living in the present and I’m walking in the future”, These are true statements of Pyramid and of all Cryptorastas. There are some deep parallels in the two songs as cryptocurrency is recognized by many to be the future direction global currency with the potential to solve many of the inherent problems in fiat currency that continue to repress and hold back much of the world population. This is a reason it has been used as a hedge against inflation by Venezuela who adopted Bitcoin as their national currency and has become widely adopted such as Nigeria as well. 

The Cryptorastas project was first introduced to me by the late Lee “Scratch” Perry on a social media post he made on the Instagram platform. I was aware through this post that he would have a collaboration with them and their NFT was set to launch. On the drop date I bought an initial 5 NFTs (which I still own). The project has brought its followers NFT and IRL sneakers and skateboards, and next up is their own record label. The initial song by Dada Yute is set to drop very soon with 100 editions planned. Many more are in the works. There is also a gathering of all cryptorastas planned in Kingston on Febraury 23rd, just days before the Grammys are awarded. We can hope the future of the Grammys has an NFT nominated as Reggae artist of the year, and with any luck it could be from Cryptorastas. We in the community send much respect and love to Kabaka Pyramid and wish him only the most success in his nomination this year.

Top records from 2022 (in no particular order)

1 Robert Glasper -Black Radio 3

2. Rose Mercie ¿Kieres agua?

3 Kham Meslien – Fantômes…Futurs

4Kokoroko– Could we be more?

5 Magma Kãrtëhl

6 K.O.G. – zone 6 agege

7 Black Midi – Hellfire

8 Adekunle Gold-Catch me if you can

9.Cartwright, Fowler, Hirsh, Parker and Hurt – Notice that there

10-Bonnet Malaby Darrifourcq, Sclavis- S/t

11. Kabaka Pyramid – The Kalling

12 Government Mule * Heavy Loaded Blues

13. Horrace Andy – Midnight Rocker

14. Stro Elliot – Black and Loud

15. Chelsea Carmichael – The river doesn’t like strangers

Top records of 2021

Lekan Babalola – Mr Lakaaye 

Bitchin Bajas – Switched on Ra

Cleo Sol – Mother

Ryley Walker & Kikagaku Moyo – Deep Fried Grandeur

Sons of Kemet – Black to the future

Mdou Moctar – Afrique Victime

JD Pinkus  – Fungus Shui

Micah Shemaiah – Still

Arooj Aftab – Vulture Prince

New Age Doom & Lee Scratch Perry – Lee Scratch Perry’s Guide to the Universe

Ben Lamar Gay – Open Arms to Open Us

Free Radio – EARthworms

Theo Croker – Blk2life || A future past

Nala Sinephro – Space 1.8

Joy Oladokun – In defense of my own happiness

Heartless Bastards – A Beautiful life

Nell Smith and the Flaming Lips – Where the viaduct looms

Maassai – With the shifts

Tyler, the Creator – Call me if you get lost

Ckay – Boyfriend 

Ideefix #3 up at Open Sea

Ideefix #3 limited to 50 copies at open sea

My most recent NFT has 50 copies minted and many of them (if not all) will be given away. This work is a warped rendition of the original photo in the work Irma the cleaning lady finds a new astral plane. I was thinking of making a short video of this piece too, which would be just one addition. A handful of these will be on the polygon chain which is a gas free network.  Anyway, here’s the link to the new pieces up now.