Ben Ratliff

  • Ben Ratliff


    1. Sonic Youth (Irving Plaza, New York, Nov. 29, 2002) PS to last year’s list: Succinct and complex, with all the iconic poses, sounds, and gestures in top form and gooniness at a minimum. A great rock band—then and forever.

    2. Nancy Wilson (Alice Tully Hall, New York, Jan. 13) A real warrior of pop, or jazz, or whatever. One minute she’s delivering middlebrow standards, the next she drowns you in radical subdivisions of a single vowel.

    3. Johnny Paycheck tribute (Elbo Room, San Francisco, Mar. 19) You can go through life without noticing the cult of Paycheck, and then . . .

    4. Allman

  • Ben Ratliff


    1. Steve Coleman (Knitting Factory, New York, Feb. 4) A nearly seamless set of improvisation, and after thickets of odd-meter funk chants, the band launched into Rodgers and Hart’s “Bewitched.”

    2. Abbey Lincoln (Alice Tully Hall, New York, Mar. 7–9) Fela, Willie Nelson, and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan have proved it, too: The best performers play basically the same number over and over.

    3. Bill Charlap Trio (Jazz Standard, New York, Apr. 9) The control, the discipline, the variations on old songs and standard jazz forms: Wow.

    4. Eddie Palmieri (Woolsey Hall, New Haven, CT, Apr. 22) A re-formed

  • Ben Ratliff


    1. John Lewis (Alice Tully Hall, New York, Jan. 18) How inept we seem to have been in not recognizing his swing and sensuality, and what a way to go out, with an almost perfect live retrospective only sixty days before this jazz master’s death.

    2. Carlinhos Brown and Timbalada (Salvador da Bahía, Brazil, Feb. 25) When Brown let loose with the heavy, dense James Brown funk, the crowd froze. When he played this year’s Carnaval hit, a cheery cha-cha-cha, the crowd exploded.

    3. Pantera (Hammerstein Ballroom, New York, Mar. 9) Still impressively hard and loud and direct in their eleventh


    Driving across Europe with only one cassette, I never tired of MC Solaar’s Paradisiaque, a dazzling cross-cultural mix between American rap and chanson française—skillful wordplay in the tradition of Marcel Duchamp and Serge Gainsbourg.

    BEN RATLIFF, music critic, New York Times:
    I’ve been amazed by Caetano Veloso’s records––he is the avatar of a universal artist in pop music: a musician who studies and protects the cultural traditions of the New World, then generously expands them.

    ELIZABETH PEYTON, artist: Nirvana.

    BARBARA KRUGER, artist: There is no best of—just a

  • Hermann Nitsch

    THE STUNNING SCHEDULE of events for Hermann Nitsch’s Six-Day-Play, a happening held last August at his Schloss, in Prinzendorf, Austria, reads like a cross between death-metal theatrics and harmonic-convergence hippiedom. The day begins, “5:32 AM: Sunrise. Slaughter and disembowelment of a bull.” This kicks off a tight lineup: Primal Excess, Primal Beginnings, Matricide, Patricide, Fratricide, the Murder on the Cross, and the Fall. There’s a lunch break—nothing like fratricide to work up an appetite—followed by “Partial mounting of the mythical leitmotif,” with a unison hooting of all

  • Tony Conrad

    THE LONG, SLOWLY MODULATING drones on Tony Conrad’s box set Early Minimalism Volume One (Table of the Elements) are totally uncompromising, even if they do relax the listener over time; the electrified violins that produce the sounds attack tiny intervals across the audible spectrum with slightly wobbly intonation, never applicable to the equal temperament of the piano. There are four discs here, each filled with thirty minutes’ to an hour’s worth of this truculent process music; the result is occasionally reminiscent of the blues, like Little Walter inhaling one chord on an amped-up harmonica

  • Keiji Haino

    KEIJI HAINO IS AN OBSCURANTIST’S dream. He has a supernally cool, all-black surface—knee-length leather jackets, Beatle boots, stovepipe pants, Ray-Bans, long, beautiful hair cut straight across the forehead. The rocker getup is both a beckoning and a keep-out sign: being understood is not his modus, but Haino has achieved a reputation as a kind of unearthly visionary for giving his audience what it wants.

    A birdlike Japanese man in his mid ’40s, Haino has learned to make his every step seem important. One of his American friends claims never to have seen him without sunglasses. Though able-bodied,