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Now Available: Blues and the Empirical Truth


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Now Available: Blues and the Empirical Truth;

a three CD set; Allen Lowe with Matthew Shipp, Roswell Rudd, Marc

Ribot, and Lewis Porter; featuring Ray Suhy $15 shipped in the USA

$23 to Europe. (paypal: alowe5@maine.rr.com)

"Allen Lowe is jazz's ultimate outsider musician" - Francis Davis

"Blues and the Empirical Truth" a review by Ken Shimamoto

…as a saxophonist, the leader’s playing is exploratory, but with an

awareness of tradition, as though he breathed in the entire history of

blues and jazz (which I suppose, in a way, he has) and is now blowing

it out through the bell of his horn. Lowe burns with incandescent fire

on up-tempo numbers, cries the blues a la Ornette on “(Bull Connor

Sees) Darkies on the Delta,” flexes his muscles to show off his range

and fluidity on “No More Blues (the Sins of the Mother),” and even

comes across like one of those freedom-drunk, fire-breathing ‘60s guys

on “Pete Brown’s Blues,” “In a Harlem Ashram,” and “One Trane


Lowe’s tunes almost always come with a back story, with titular or

musical allusions to jazz and Civil Rights pioneers, Richard Hell,

Richard Strauss, the Carter Family, minstrel shows, the Regular Old

Baptists – he avers that he listens to nothing but gospel music –

Salvation Army bands, an obscure post-Beat poet, and the Velvet

Underground, to say nothing of the album’s Oliver Nelson-inspired


Blues and the Empirical Truth only includes a couple of vocal

features. On the slow shuffle “Carnovsky’s Blues/The Whores’ Dance,”

the terrifying slavery-days narrative “Cold Bed Blues,” and the

ominously relentless “Blood on the Mirror,” engineer Todd Hutchisen

intones Lowe’s lyrics like Colonel Bruce Hampton singing from the

bottom of the ocean…

There’s much to be amazed by in this cornucopia of sounds. I know I’ll

still be digesting this by summer, which makes Blues and the Empirical

Truth an early candidate for my record of the year. And again, hearing

this outpouring gives me hope. If creativity this robust can survive

and thrive in the Maine woods, who knows what other pockets of

thrilling, individuated compositional and improvisational excellence

are lurking out there in the backwater burgs of America? (Or, if a

masterpiece drops in the woods, does anybody hear? Visit

http://www.allenlowe.com/ for the answers to this and many other


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  • 2 weeks later...

This is one great record! (Actually it's 3 great cds.)

medjuck, I have read on another forum that two of its members thought that this album reminded them of Henry Threadgill. What do you think of that?

Don't know Henry Threadgill's work at all. If that's the case I should probably check him out. Reminded me of Ornette Coleman and Muddy Waters.

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  • 2 weeks later...

TK, are you still waiting to hear if Allen thinks this is worth buying? :D

I've been really enjoying these discs. My one gripe is I wish the drums sounded a bit "better." I've been playing electronic drums and I know they can sound better than they do here, but that may be a choice made. . . .

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TK, are you still waiting to hear if Allen thinks this is worth buying? :D

I've been really enjoying these discs. My one gripe is I wish the drums sounded a bit "better." I've been playing electronic drums and I know they can sound better than they do here, but that may be a choice made. . . .

I don't think the electronic drums were intended to mimic the sound of a real kit, and their sonic texture (if that's the right term) is quite deliberate. I recall some of Allen's comments on the music allude to this.

Works for me.

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the drums are in 8 bit digital, which makes it lo-fi. My feeling was that if we wanted more presence there I'd have used "real" drums - not everybody likes them but to me they work as a play against certain sonic expectations.

the Threadgill comparison (which I've also heard elsewhere) surprises me - as I have to admit I've listened to very little of him since Air.

Edited by AllenLowe
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Hey, you're the boss. I just don't enjoy the listening this way. I'd do the drums differently but I'm not in the project. :) Does make it a bit easier for me to play my kit along with though and make my own contribution, which I did a bit on Tuesday before heat problems set in (in me, not the equipment, the AC doesn't work really well and it's been 104 or more each day this month).

Allen, congratulations on a fascinating release.

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  • 2 weeks later...

nice review from Mike Shanley's blog:

by Mike Shanley

Allen Lowe

Blues and the Empirical Truth

(Music and Arts) http://www.musicandarts.com/

Ah, music critics. Ask them a yes or no question about an album and

you'll get an oratory. Ask for a compilation and you might get... a

nine-disc anthology.

That's just what Allen Lowe compiled in the recent past. The

descriptively-titled American Pop: An Audio History - From Minstrel to

Mojo: On Record 1893-1946 contained nine discs. Then he outdid himself

with That Devilin' Tune: A Jazz History 1895-1950, which contained a

whopping 36 pieces of plastic. And you probably don't believe that

much music was even recorded during that period. In addition to

compiling the music, Lowe also wrote extensive texts to go along with

each of these productions. Some might call it crazy, but it makes Lowe

a man after my own heart.

In addition to being an extensive musical commentator ("critic" seems

like a limiting word here) Lowe is also a musician himself, another

trait to which I can relate and admire. To add a personal note on that

subject before I take myself out of this story, I feel a certain a

kinship in his alto saxophone playing because his tone reminds me of

what I aspired to sound like years ago when I thought I had a future

on the horn: a clean tone with raw edges, and a searching quality

that's equally ready to blow straight or scream at a moment's notice.

(Personally I never got past the aspiration part to the actual

execution of such a sound, but that's another story.)

Lowe the musician is gifted on the alto, but also picks up the

C-melody and tenor horns, in addition to being extremely fluent on

guitar. For his own music project Blues and the Empirical Truth (a

witty play on Oliver Nelson's Blues and the Abstract Truth) he has

produced no less that three discs of music. One volume lasts 66

minutes while the other two creep close to 80 minutes each. True to

his other calling, Lowe offers track by track analysis. Some of this

comes in quick phrases or a few sentences. One goes on for a whole

paragraph - or is it sentence - which includes a parenthetical

statement that on its own could be a short paragraph in itself. The

set-up reminds me of philosophy tomes that I read in college. The

comparison makes sense since the subject is empirical truth. Besides,

music is a more interesting subject that existentialism anyway.

Three discs is a pretty serious listening commitment and speaks to an

artist's confidence in his output, but truth be told there's very

little filler on this whole set, save for the occasional track that

noodles a little with multiple solos happening at once. Lowe is joined

by a pretty heavy group of friends including veteran trombonist

Roswell Rudd, guitarist Marc Ribot, pianist Matthew Shipp (who also

plays Farfisa!) and pianist Lewis Porter, among others. The blues can

be a limiting structure, but this is nothing like an attempt to

chronicle all the various styles of blues and present them for

consumption. Sometimes it feels like a blues set, other times it's a

jazz set, and with his references to Richard Hell and the Velvet

Underground in his notes, inspirations comes to Lowe from beyond even

these immediate sources. Titles like "(Bull Connor Sees) Darkies on

the Delta" and "Pauli Murray, at the Back of the Bus, Suddenly Realize

She Has the Blues" prove that Lowe also has a handle on the social

issues that informed a lot of the music from its earliest days. Out of

context - meaning right here - the titles might seem glib, but don't

believe it. They come out of empathy or understanding.

More so than my previous description, Lowe's alto playing sounds a bit

like Ornette Coleman if the latter had straightened up and flown

right. Clear and sometimes plaintive, it also has a combative quality

somewhat like Archie Shepp on "Blues and Transfiguration" which has a

Mingus mood in the composition. Anyone who can hold his own in a wild

exchanges with Rudd really knows his stuff anyway, and "Entrance, No

Exit" and the several installments of "Ras Speaks" prove that. They

also show Shipp in a very subdued state, holding down chords on an

organ with a tone that seems to thin for a heavyweight like him, while

the two horns have all the fun. (Although Shipp's volume changes in

one gets a little trippy.)

Guitarist Ray Suhy appears frequently throughout the set, with a

skillful approach that varies his sound from straight blues to

something a little wilder, depending on the setting. Ribot is his

usual spiky self, and speaking of that adjective, a gentleman named

Spike Sikes also plays alto, which gives Lowe a chance to play his

other instruments. His guitar recalls Black Flag's Greg Ginn, a remote

comparison true, but both have a tendency to get so manic during a

solo that tempo gets overlooked in favor of passion. Maybe it's just

my limited blues knowledge showing, but he also plays with the

adventurous scope of Zoot Horn Rollo's best moments with Captain

Beefheart. (Now there's someone to draft for the next session.)

The only odd element to the whole set is Jake Millet's use of

electronic drums. On the first disc, they sound appropriate - sounding

like little more than a battered ride cymbal that holds things

together. As time goes on, it almost feels like Sunny Murray has

dropped by, agreeing not to do his usual thing, but never completely

settling into a straight tempo. The decaying sound of the cymbal

sounds fun, like a delay pedal was accidentally bumped. But by the

last disc, the thin sound has one wondering why a real trap kit wasn't


If there's any justice in this world Blues and the Empirical Truth

should win an award for its packaging alone. Along with all the music,

the three-panel cover includes a booklet not only of Lowe's thoughts

(which are equally deep, fiery and humorous), but an introductory

essay by Village Voice columnist Francis Davis. Hopefully Lowe doesn't

take that as an oversight of the music (like Mingus did when he won

Best Liner Notes for Let My Children Hear Music).

But there I go, dropping music trivia like a music scribe who knows

too much. This isn't an item designed just for the likes of Lowe and

Davis and lower-totem-pole music geek/scribes like me. This is music

for people who still get excited about music, and relish the size of

packages like this.

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