|Places I Know + The Machine Gun Co.|
Mike Cooper — Places I Know + The Machine Gun Co.
Location: Great Britain
Album release: 1970/2014
Record Label: Paradise of Bachelors / Dawn
Places I Know
01. “Country Water” 3:04
02. “Three Forty–Eight (Blues for or Against Andalusia)” 3:49
03. “Night Journey” 5:09
04. “Time to Time” 8:27
05. “Paper and Smoke” 3:55
06. “Broken Bridges” 4:38
07. “Now I Know” 4:57
08. “Goodbye Blues, Goodbye” 4:53
09. “Places I Know” 2:25
The Machine Gun Co. with Mike Cooper
10. “Song for Abigail” 9:02
11. “The Singing Tree” 5:36
12. “Midnight Words” 3:28
13. “So Glad (That I Found You)” 15:19
14. “Lady Anne” 5:15
By Jayson Greene; June 27, 2014; Score: 8.6 / 8.3 / 8.3
–••• This 2CD set reissues British artist Mike Cooper‘s two excellent albums, originally released in 1970 and 1971, respectively; his departure from folk–blues is evident on these two documents.
–••• His diversity is one of the most striking traits of his work, considering that Cooper has worked in free improvisation, avant–garde, Hawaiian guitar music, and — much later in the ’90s — even drum’n’bass–inflected electronica. As a British folk–blues artist of the ’60s, obvious comparisons to Bert Jansch and John Renbourn abound. Like many of his contemporaries of that movement, he progressed to a folk–rock singer/songwriter mode by 1971 and gave listeners Places I Know, which is rooted in the tradition of Tim Buckley, Jackson Browne, and Randy Newman’s sophistication with the form. While underrated as a songwriter — mainly because Cooper would seemingly switch genres before receiving deserved recognition — his cross–pollination can be explained in his statements that avant–garde classical composers Olivier Messiaen and Györgi Ligeti were also inspirations for this dense and complex collection of songs. The second album in this set, The Machine Gun Co., had to be named knowing full well that Peter Brötzmann (Machine Gun) and Jimi Hendrix (“Machine Gun”) were sharing the title, but Cooper was never afraid of blatantly displaying his influences. On this artful semi–improvised set, the guitarist stretches out into more avant–garde territory, leaving any songwriter whims behind. He approaches a jazz–inflected group sound, with Geoff Hawkins on sax, Alan Cook on electric piano, and the rhythm section of Les Calvert and Tim Richardson on bass and drums, respectively. His songs are still there, only the form is loosened up a lot — approaching the sort of post–jazz–folk that Buckley defined with Starsailor and, if that seems like too–high praise, it is only an indication of the startling quality of this often overlooked genius.
–••• After two years of tireless work to liberate these long out–of–print masterpieces from the vaults, Paradise of Bachelors is proud to present the first artist–sanctioned reissues—and first–ever vinyl reissues — of iconoclastic English–born, Rome–based folk and experimental music legend Mike Cooper’s classic trio of early 1970s avant–folk/rock records: Trout Steel (1970), Places I Know (1971), and The Machine Gun Co. with Mike Cooper (1972). The latter two titles are presented for the very first time as the definitive double album, as Cooper originally intended them to be released.
–••• Listening to Cooper’s recordings retrospectively in sequence reveals a rangy narrative of perennial reinvention from document to document through a playful approach to the deconstruction of “folk” musics and all that gross genre signifier implies and denies. By the time the Rolling Stones invited him to join the band in the early ’60s, and he politely declined (true story; Brian Jones took the gig), he had already progressed far beyond the circumscribed bounds of their early, hip–histrionic Albionic blues. By the time he was rumored to have retired from music in the mid ’70s, disappearing from his home in Southern England into Southern Spain to become a fisherman (an amusing fiction; he suffers from seasickness), he had already moved beyond his heady homebrew of progressive, free jazz–framed songcraft into increasingly less conventionally structured frontiers of open improvisation and later, electronic composition.
–••• The Machine Gun Co. band (named for the 1968 Peter Brötzmann album) coalesced around Cooper’s desire to continue the improvisatory path forged on Trout Steel in a more sustainable manner, with a steady core group of likeminded musicians able to buttress its daring, long–form improvisatory vaults with a bedrock foundation. –••• Peter Eden (Donovan, Bill Fay, Clive Palmer) produced the historic sessions, which veered from the impeccable conceptual folk–rock artistry of Places I Know (as Cooper explains, “the secret of the title of this record is that it was meant as a kind of covers record, or an homage to some musicians and songwriters that I liked at the time, the ‘places’ in the title — I was interested in seeing if I could emulate some other people without actually sounding like them”) to the utterly singular “songmaking” deconstructions of the more radical The Machine Gun Co., wherein the band erects lapidary arrangements reminiscent of Tim Buckley, only to dismantle them into virtuosic passages of Beefheartian free–jazz scree and skronk. According to Cooper:
–••• What was initially planned was a double album, with one record played by the Machine Gun Co. and the other with arrangements by Mike Gibbs and his orchestra. –••• Those two records were conceived as a double album aimed at covering the wide range of music I was interested in and gently leading the listener from the more accessible Places I Know, with its Mike Gibbs arrangements, into the more (for the times) extreme areas of The Machine Gun Co. That never happened, and they were released as two separate records a year apart.
–••• Places I Know/The Machine Gun Co. with Mike Cooper is Paradise of Bachelors’ attempt, two years in the making, to correct this historical oversight and offer this masterpiece as it was designed to be experienced, as an extraordinarily ambitious document spanning Cooper’s song–based and improvisation–based styles of the early 1970s.
–••• First–ever artist–sanctioned and vinyl reissue, two years in the making
–••• Available on 150g virgin vinyl as a deluxe, gatefold 2xLP, in a deluxe limited edition, as well as on gatefold CD and digital formats
–••• Includes 16 pp. chapbook (20 pp. CD version) with an essay by Mike Cooper, lyrics, and never published color photos
–••• Vinyl edition includes digital download coupon.
Review by Thom Jurek; Score: ****
|Places I Know + The Machine Gun Co.|