This is an abrasive album. Not only does it has some massively skronking free-jazz, but it is also aggressively political, dealing with slavery and race. So, if the heart-rendered screams of Roberts don’t make you uncomfortable, the description of a woman on the auction block will do it.
I listened to this album a number of times and kept thinking that it would probably work much better live than on record. Lo and behold, if I’d read the liner notes more closely I would have known that it was performed live. (The final song has an introduction and cheers at the end, but none of the rest of the album indicates that it’s live).
I like free improv jazz (when I’m in the mood of course) and I also like noise jazz (John Zorn mostly). So I’m not averse to a lot of the genre. But there was something odd about this recording to me. And this is where that whole “live” recording comes into play. This music felt like it was being performed for an audience. I don’t know what the difference is, but it’s one I heard. I can imagine images going along with the show. And because of that, I feel like I was missing a crucial element.
The liner notes don’t explain anything about the show itself, nor how this person apparently named Coin Coin relates to her (it seems vaguely autobiographical, but I’d love to know more).
There are moments of rather conventional beauty on this recording. The song that contains the “Bid ‘Em In” section is a great singalong (of course, when you realize what you’re singing about, you’re horrified). And there are some other sections where Robert’s voice melds perfectly with her band and with Gitanjali Jain’s backing vocals.
The final song is a very moving song written for her mother.
The only thing I really don’t like about the album is Roberts’ poetry-slam-type singing. I have complained before about this type of sing-song delivery, which just irks me. I can see that there are times on the album where it works, but for the most part it feels arbitrary (as it always seems to me). And when you have crazy improv jazz you need something to hold it down. The poetry slam lyrics don’t do that.
This is not for everybody, but it is certainly a powerful album.
[READ: January 16, 2012] Vicky Swanky is a Beauty
McSweeney’s has gotten me to like a lot of things that I never thought I would–a cooking magazine, a sports magazine, long out of print unheard of titles. But they simply cannot get me to like flash fiction. Okay, that’s not entirely true. Deb Olin Unfurth is quite a master of the genre. But man, I just cannot get into Williams’ short short stories.
The majority of these stories are two pages long. This means 12 lines on the first page and anywhere from a quarter to a full-page on the second. But there are also some stories that end after one page (12 lines). So here’s the little drinking game I invited. Since Williams’ stories end so arbitrarily, try to guess which ones end after those first twelve lines and which ones continue on to the next page (it’s not really a fair game because some stories end in ten lines or so, but you get the idea).
She was cockeyed on her setee–her face considerably close to the cushioned seat. She righted herself, but she dropped the book.
She was sick and her mother had died of typhoid, her sister of parasitic worms.
This had been one of the few occasions when she had been charming and tactful.
There were bruises on the lady’s face and indication of other injuries upon her delicate structure.
Her library table desk is made of sycamore, painted in the classic manner–the type of thing that seems peculiar.
Is that the end of the story or not? (I’m not giving away the secret). The last line sure feels like a concluding line. It sounds like a great wrap up, but I’m not sure if it’s wrapping up the first part of the story.
Here’s another one. This one in its entirety: “Common Body”
So, I’ve got good news, but I also felt so bad I was crying.
She’s so wrongly old and I’m her daughter, but can she still have children?
The thing about a lot of these stories is that Williams writes beautiful lines. Many of the stories feel like gorgeous lines of poetry that have been randomly stuck together into different stories, or like hiaku that don’t follow any convention. By the end of the book I found myself just reading, not absorbing, and just looking our for cool turns of phrase.
Now here’s the thing that undermines everything I thought I knew about reading. Twenty-Four of these stories have appeared in Harper’s. (Of course, when your whole story is that short, they can print a bunch of them). And worse yet (for me, not her), one of those stories was printed in The Pushcart Prize XXXIV: Best of the Small Presses, 2010.
I admit I don’t like experimental fiction. This disappoints me about myself, but I guess I just like my fiction to resonate more. Maybe I’d like these more if she threw in some line breaks and called it poetry.