The U. of C.’s Seth Brodsky on Kendrick Lamar’s instructions for resistance | In Rotation | Chicago Reader

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The U. of C.’s Seth Brodsky on Kendrick Lamar’s instructions for resistance

Plus: SAIC assistant professor Seth Kim-Cohen on why it’s not time for pretty songs, Reader writer Peter Margasak on the epitome of Memphis roots music, and more

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A Reader staffer shares three musical obsessions, then asks someone (who asks someone else) to take a turn.

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Peter Margasak, Reader music critic

Andrew Cyrille, The Declaration of Musical Independence Andrew Cyrille was one of the first jazz drummers to elasticize and abandon time, and five decades later, at age 77, he sounds more adventurous than ever. His playing on this quartet album is sparse and often subdued, but "Coltrane Time," a never-­recorded piece by the titular saxophonist, still startles me after half a dozen listens—its snare melody accelerates and decelerates in thrilling waves, like a fist tensing and relaxing. Guitarist Bill Frisell, keyboardist Richard Teitelbaum, and bassist Ben Street orbit Cyrille with impressive agility and intuition, whether on drifting soundscapes or splintery rumbles.

James Luther Dickinson, Dixie Fried Jim Dickinson embodied Memphis's mongrel strain of roots music—a wild, uncontrolled collision of blues, country, and rock—as thoroughly as anyone who worked in the city. His debut as a bandleader, cut in 1972 with a crack studio band called the Dixie Flyers and guests including kindred spirit Mac Rebennack (aka Dr. John), mixes gritty soul, twang, and who-gives-a-fuck insouciance. This recent Future Days reissue adds seven previously un­released tracks from the original sessions.

Laurence Crane/Asamisimasa, Sound of Horse Extraordinary Norwegian chamber ensemble Asamisimasa applies a pitch-­perfect touch to the minimalist marvels of British composer Laurence Crane. On this survey of his pieces, long tones and repetition create unexpected beauty, tenderness, and excitement. A quiet masterpiece.

Peter is curious what's in the rotation of . . .

Paul Robeson sings at a 1948 Progressive Party rally in Philadelphia. - AP PHOTOS
  • AP Photos
  • Paul Robeson sings at a 1948 Progressive Party rally in Philadelphia.

Seth Kim-Cohen, SAIC assistant professor, formerly of the Fire Show

At a press conference in the mid-1940s, Paul Robeson—singer, actor, All-American football player, Columbia Law School graduate—announced that he would only sing for the rights of his people. "No pretty songs, gentlemen," he said. "Time for some full citizenship."

At a Robeson concert in 1949, Ku Klux Klan and anticommunist protesters—chanting "Wake up, America!"—attacked attendees with baseball bats and rocks, burned a cross, and lynched Robeson in effigy. Police chose not to intervene. Afterward, the local Klan received 748 membership applications. Eight days later, Robeson returned and sang, surrounded by a human shield consisting of labor union and Communist Party members.

Robeson was targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee (which Newt Gingrich wants to revive), his passport was revoked, and his U.S. concerts were canceled at the behest of the F.B.I. (remember them?). When Robeson visited Chicago in October 1949, the Sun-Times and Tribune sent reporters. Worried about offending subscribers, though, they chose not to publish stories.

We're all spinning these days, like records off their spindles. The needle has lost contact with the groove. So I'm not listening to anything. I'm listening for something—something lost to the vacuous caterwaul of history. I'm listening for the songs that history prevented Paul Robeson from singing. I'm listening for Robeson's call to arms. I'm listening for songs of radical solidarity, songs of unequivocal repudiation, songs of ferocious resistance, songs of and for the oppressed. No pretty songs, gentlemen. No pretty songs.

Seth is curious what's in the rotation of . . .

Kendrick Lamar discusses “The Blacker the Berry” with MTV in 2015. - VIA MTV'S YOUTUBE CHANNEL
  • Via MTV's YouTube channel
  • Kendrick Lamar discusses “The Blacker the Berry” with MTV in 2015.

Seth Brodsky, U. of C. assistant professor of music and the humanities

Joanna Newsom, Divers Not the whole album, but I'm listening to "Sapokanikan" again. The song is a gorgeous, overpacked, moss-covered, Anglo-Celtic suitcase of allusions. "Look and despair," Newsom implores at the end, fantasizing loss on the scale of civilizations. On first hearing I went along with its unmarked melancholy, its raceless plea for universal sympathy: Help me contemplate history's ravaging path, it seemed to say. Now I hear white hipsterism mourning itself. The coming decade will feel as distant from the previous one as the European 1910s and '20s did from the 1890s. Hipsterism as (the old) aestheticism, or belle époque, or Jugendstil. After them the savage god, et cetera.

Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly This album's blackness was never unmarked; from the start it was, as Clover Hope put it at the Muse, "overwhelming." I hear "The Blacker the Berry" now as the double of and retort to "Sapokanikan." "Fuck melancholy," it says. "My heart is being halved." It sounded portentous the first time around. Now it sounds like directions. Step one: Pick a side.

Igor Stravinsky, Le Sacre du Printemps Truthfully, I can't stand this piece anymore. But I teach it every year. It should sound a century old—and for a long time, it did. Now it sounds—not new, but less like antiquity. As if everything it represented—the garish primitivist charisma, the vicious cool of the rhymeless and reasonless chord, modernity clawing out of its 19th-century host—needed representation again. The fossil has dug itself out.

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