There have been occasions when Vinyl Connection has grouched about how much stuff is required to step outside the house. We have been heard to talk movingly of those long gone, halcyon days when a chap simply strolled breezily out the front door unencumbered by anything other than his thoughts. Nowadays it requires a hold-all of substantial girth (matching, proportionately, the circumference of the bearer) to mount even the simplest sortie such as the acquisition of a newspaper or replenishing milk supplies for the ritual morning coffee. More ambitious quests require commensurately more complicated preparations sometimes involving days of advance planning; yet even then, something is guaranteed to be forgotten.
So it was a rare delight, the other evening, to exit the holiday unit VC and family were occupying for the long weekend and amble towards the chosen hostelry with nothing more than a light jacket to protect against the approaching evening coolness. Yet to our dismay we were not infused with the carefree and uninhibited spirit this rare lightweight excursion promised. We knew Ms Connection had her own cavernous carry-along luggage crammed with sufficient accoutrements and technology to respond to any eventuality arising on the ten minute walk to the pub, but we were not relaxed. We fretted when patting empty pockets and finding only a handkerchief. We frowned at the absence of a metallic lump over the left cheek of the VC stern, the sharply configured keys so essential to a successful return after adventures. We muttered about missing important texts despite no-one ever contacting us outside business hours and pondered unseen statistical surges at the Vinyl Connection blog. In short, dear reader, our crest fell with every step away from the pile of belonging sitting abandoned on the lounge-room table and it was only the promise of an anxiety suppressing pint of Mulwala’s finest that enabled us to continue at all. Yet persevere we did, guided along the uneven footpath by the boy (now of sufficient maturity to render aid to his short-sighted father) while lamenting the fact that, had we worn our spectacles, we could perambulate unassisted.
Have you grappled with the addition of spectacles to your visage? Perhaps you have been sporting lenses for so long they are an entirely natural feature of your cranial terrain or you are, lucky soul, possessed of such visual facility that the addition of cunningly ground glass-wear never enters your consciousness. It is only in recent years that VC has joined the ranks of the bespectacled and we normally maintain a sanguine disposition regarding their deployment. It is really only driving an automobile when aid is required. To this end we are in the possession of our second in an inevitably long-term series of distance glasses with magnetised tinted clip-ons for reducing the impact of the Australian sun. It works, and we can read road signs. True, considerable juggling and head waggling are required when attempting to consult a street directory or other written tract while driving, but thus far we have succumbed to neither the services of tow truck operators nor the micro-management of an insufferable ‘sat nav’ device, so all is good. Or was good, until the morning of the night referred to above.
A friend, veteran of many visits to the district in which we were holidaying, had received intelligence of an intriguing event in the vicinity. The town of Barooga was holding a garage sale. To be more precise, a suite of garage sales; more than thirty, according to the press. Well, you’d have to be confident of snagging a few vinyl gems in a town full of yard sales, wouldn’t you?
So soon after breakfast on a bright Sunday morning, off I went in search of records. Taking the Murray Valley Highway, I tootled out of Yarrawonga, zoomed through Burramine, nodded amiably to Boomanoomana on the other side of the Murray River, scooted past the Cottadidda State Forrest and in under 30 minutes (if a little over the speed limit) was cruising through Cobram towards the bridge over the mighty Murray and into Barooga.
In exchange for a gold coin ‘donation’, I received a map of the town polka-dotted with the locations of participating households. Off I went, flushed with anticipation and rocking my spectacles from nose to forehead to alternately consult map and street signs. Half a dozen uninspiring driveways later, I was beginning to question the investment of time and petrol and thinking that perhaps a cappuccino in Cobram might be the highlight of the expedition. But record hunters are not easily daunted and so I pushed on through the increasing heat of the early autumn morning; wandering down driveways, asking with an apologetic grin about any records, then wandering back to the car, empty-handed.
Two-thirds of the homes were ticked off before I even sighted the first box of LPs. They were sitting next to some potted cacti on a back verandah cluttered with everything from embroidered cushions to hardware. A small elderly lady with gimlet eyes barked, ‘Four dollars!’ as I sank to my knees next to the cardboard box. ‘Sorry?’
‘The rekuds are $4 each’.
Inside I whistled. Four hundred kilometres from a major city and this desiccated gnome wants four bucks for her crap records? Well, that’s certainly what it looked like. Hawking Brothers, Slim Dusty, a couple of Rolf Harris (and haven’t they become creepy), K-Tel’s Country Hits… the most interesting disc was a mid-eighties TV hits compilation and I was so desperate for a result that I actually picked it up for a closer look… And underneath it, sitting amongst the dross like a magnum of French champagne in a spit and sawdust pub, was Miles Davis’ Agharta, one of the most sprawling, squalling, funk-ridden freak-outs of scuzzy electric jazz-rock ever committed to four sides of vinyl. And in pretty good condition too.
Smiling beatifically I handed over some coins, declining a plastic bag with a munificent wave of the hand. The crone stared at me suspiciously but I was not to be deflated. ‘Enjoy the rest of your day,’ I graciously instructed her, and strolled back to the car.
I sat with the door open to let the heat dissipate, specs pushed upwards to review the Barooga map. Despite sunlight of sufficient brightness to produce squinting in unprotected eyes, it was with a much more relaxed gaze than previously that the map was scrutinised. To be sure it was just one record, but what a record. It was enough.
But, yet… perhaps that other house, on the edge of town… why not just check it out?
After carefully inserting Agharta into the Vinyl Connection calico swag bag the triumphant hunter-gatherer leaned out to yank the car door closed.
Let me, at this point in the narrative, share with you a previously unremarked fact. The characteristic of skulls most vital to retaining spectacles in a superior position is not shape or other aspect of design, but hair. And Vinyl Connection is not well endowed in this department. In fact we are essentially devoid of any of the ground cover that would help anchor glasses to the cranial dome.
So as we simultaneously leaned and swung shut the vehicle door it was in filmic slow-motion that our Most Expensive specs (with magnetic clip-on sunglass facia panel) slid gracefully off our head and fell earthwards, passing the edge of the car at the precise moment the heavy door slammed shut. Or would have, if the glasses has not interposed themselves.
Here is another salient fact. Titanium is strong, but not that strong. And Agharta is good, but not so good that its’ acquisition compensates for the violent end of one’s spectacles. Below is a brief album review. I hope you will forgive me if it seems a little flat. I seem to have lost my rose-coloured glasses.
Miles Davis Agharta
Released on CBS, August 1975
Recorded Osaka Festival Hall, Japan, February 1st 1975 (afternoon)
Miles Davis – Trumpet, Organ
Sonny Fortune – Soprano Saxophone, Alto Saxophone, Flute
Michael Henderson – Fender Bass
Pete Cosey – Guitar, Synthi, Percussion
Al Foster – Drums
Reggie Lucas – Guitar
Mtume – Conga, Percussion, Water Drum, Rhythm Box
Executive Producer – Teo Macero
Cover Art – Elena Pavlov
With just four tracks spread across two LPs (or two CDs), it is immediately apparent that this is not an album that screams ‘concise’. Listening, it is just as clear that this is not music that yells ‘focussed’ either.
How you respond to Agharta will depend on your existing tastes. If you like extended space-funk jams, welcome. A fondness for psychedelic voodoo shit? Step this way. Partial to a bit of squalling reed-work? You’ll be in melody-free heaven. Artist reference points might include Hendrix at Woodstock, Sun Ra going extra-terrestrial, Stomu Yamastha’s Go Live, perhaps even bits of the early Ohr label Tangerine Dream. All painted with stabbing, buzzing, soaring, slashing jazz-rock brush strokes.
Track 1 – Prelude [38’ 08”]
The funk groove starts early; Miles enters not with his horn but with a shrieking organ note. The more familiar instrumental entrance comes a few moments later when Davis’ effects-laden trumpet arrives and steps centre-stage. Sonny Fortune manages to be both fluid and edgy. Next up is Pete Cosey’s guitar – he’s the man for the stabbing psychedelic sprays. In the jazz tradition, players rotate the strike thereafter.
Track 2 – Maiysha [12’ 20”]
A pretty ballad (from the album Get Up With It) and the closest to what fans of mid-60s Miles would be familiar with. Some nice flute from Sonny Fortune.
Track 3 – Interlude [26’ 50”]
After Sonny launches things on soprano and Cosey adds splashes of gnarly guitar freak-out, Miles contributes some tasty hard-bop lines (with a bit of wah-wah added for that funky 70s seasoning). The long, spare groove goes on quite a while then peters out. No-one takes the lead, there is no apparent guidance or direction, it just dribbles on until Fortune picks up his flute and improvises a lost, wandering theme. He passes the wandering baton to the leader who meanders towards the end of side three.
Track 4 – Theme From Jack Johnson [25’ 16”]
Puzzling title as neither of the pieces on the 1970 parent album Tribute to Jack Johnson to bears the boxer’s name. Nor could these (admittedly inexpert) ears pick up much in the way of melodic or rhythmic references to the Jack Johnson music. It’s another long funk-driven groove, splashed with bursts of often distorted solo colour, but free of melodic core and harmony.
As a linear acid-jazz-freak-out trip, Agharta might well deserve the effusive praise lavished on it by the Allmusic Guide: “the greatest electric funk-rock jazz record ever made”. But although I entered this review/re-visit ready to glow, I walked away less convinced. Yet I’d still encourage adventurous music lovers to investigate Agharta and make up your own mind; it’ll certainly challenge your ears and ideas about jazz.