All night long the cat had loudly improvised games. Batting and chasing things across the hardwood floor, the hunt accompanied by little cries.
In the morning, she sweetly looked at me from the edge of the bed, the effect akin to a naughty child dressed up for a party or church.
All artists up to a certain (fame/power) level, we walk a razor’s edge. The lifestyle requires that we walk a razor’s edge. Stoicism, which increases with age, kicks in during lulls of activity or contemplation. It reminds us that while not every possession is now gold plated and Kanye still hasn’t called, on the other hand, neither are you chained to the oars in some office cubicle galley.
Still, there is the periodic bubbles of ambition. Ambition is good when it facilitates evolution. It only becomes a problem when as happens occasionally, it creates an inner churning. Then the stoic voice must raise up, for some reason now and then taking on the accent of my grandfather:
“It is raining out, hard. What time do you have to catch the train to work? That’s right, you don’t.”
I go downstairs to start the coffee. Mae gets back from her run just as I am pouring. I normally do not check my email at the table as it signals the start of the day, but it had been left on to do updates overnight. I caught myself stealing a peek. Hit parade. If not what some would consider “fame”, then exposure eventually brings out some of the ghosts.
It is a generational thing, I do not feel compelled to be on Facebook et al but I am easy enough to find.
“You are not going to believe who dropped me a line.”
“The coffee is good, who?”
“The trick is to make it heavy like a stilted thought, then pour a little in each cup so that they both get some crema before proceeding to fill them. Wendy. How long has it been?”
She smiled, having already savant like finished the math.
“It was another lifetime ago, when everything, fooling around, cooking, taking a bath had to be paired to the perfect soundtrack.”
The letter was temporarily forgotten as my mind cast back, at first to see if her math was right, which of course it was, then in general remembrances.
Music has always been important to me. With the passage of time, it is not so much that our relationship has undergone a sea-change so much as that layers have been added. A big pleasure for me used to be the exploration and when things worked out, discovery of new artists and works. I reached a point though where for a while it became almost solely about the hunt and capture. The goal of embracing and drawing newfound discoveries into what constitutes my taste dropped by the wayside in favor of a type of constant perusing motion.
I think that for any non-musician whose life revolves in some manner around music that there is an obsessive hunt phase. An equally prevalent variation on this is seeking out the new, not just to oneself, but in general. Having blinders on to all but the novel has its own built in limitations.
Needing a constant nouveau fix, it is misconstrued that being linked even tenuously to the past lessens a work’s power. Originality is important but novelty for novelty’s sake leaves very few places to go:
“Now I am into a guy who plays pieces of metal that he mined from the scrap yard himself. He is so out there-original that he doesn’t even record his works.”
Tradition is not nostalgia which can definitely at times allow for a loss of intensity. Artistically, it should never be anathema to draw or build off of the past. Some early modernist’s work cast a quick glance back while striding forward towards their own thing. Stravinsky incorporated snatches of folk melodies and pagan rhythms, Jean Cocteau with his Greek myths turned out in chic couture buzzing around the right bank in the back of chauffeured Mercedes.
The past presents a navigational point, to draw inspiration from or reject and build something new in response to. With his oil paint stick, Basquiat would riff on the moodiness of Ajax (Aias) after not winning Achille’s armor with a tiny winged Charlie Parker looking on from above, but he ran out of time.
Continuing to explore while not rejecting a foundation presents more options for enjoyment than merely chasing the latest thing. An analogy which comes to mind would be one of my other passions, gastronomy. While it is great to discover new dishes, spices and flavor combinations, without the tradition of established things that work, what can it be measured against? While it is exciting to discover something new, there can be an equally satisfying experience digging into a long-established dish such as a simple spot on roasted chicken or sole meunière. This is especially important to recognize as sometimes the new gets some of its power just from existing in uncharted territory, the shock of the new which will eventually have diminished returns with increased familiarity.
While something which does not reject or radically depart from its artistic precedents may not have the convulsive beauty of something radically unfamiliar, it can offer up pleasure which is steady and lasting. This is the case with the new album “This World” by pianist/composer Mike Nock (Lionsharecords)
The album consists of all original compositions penned either by Nock or other members of the quartet. In its cadence and stylings, it has the feel of early to mid-sixties Wayne Shorter Blue Note dates mixed with a sort of ECM label vibe.
Written by bassist Jonathan Zwartz, “And in the Night Comes Rain” is one of my favorite tracks. It starts with lone piano which is rich and stark. The intro verges on being programmatic as it conjures up precipitive feelings, even were one to not be aware of the title. The drums enter initially as a cymbal(ed) hiss, the rain hitting atop every surface of the city caught unawares. The appearance of the horn, legato murmuring of nocturnal hours, its companion, softly knocked bass percussion, the brief slowed down flirtation of a samba. A terminal beauty. The lifespan of a bouquet of flowers, the laughter at a party, Tchaikovsky contemplating that glass of water. A melancholy moment universally recognized but pictured differently for each of us.
There used to be an Italian restaurant that I often walked by. Their sandwich board sign proclaimed, “Eighty-Seven Sauces”, which had to be about eighty too many. There was no way they could all be good, the best-case scenario being that they were not that terribly different from one another. This World offers pieces in various styles but rather than seeming an over extended hodge-podge, it comes across as displaying various aspects of the band cohesively.
“Riverside” by tenor saxophonist Julien Wilson is gospel tinged without trying to over emphasize that it is so. I do not know if the ensemble is a road-working unit nor if they had each other in mind when writing the songs but throughout the album is a naturally occurring interplay. Julien’s sax plays long declamations without losing articulation. It is the sustained notes of a good idea that pops into one’s head naturally. There is a piano break that alternates between bright percussive single notes and chords, the snappy back and forth of perfect repartee.
“Aftermath”, written by Mike Nook is a freebop soundtrack for something ethereal. The nine tracks average about seven minutes in length. This is one of the longer tracks and its length allows it to become an elemental song. Little jetties of piano extend their fingers out into an ocean of contemplative sound. The saxophone see-saws between earth and sky all in rich mid-range tone.
To say that the ensemble is steeped in (modern) tradition would be to oversimplify the case. The past is not rejected but avoided is the effect of an old house with merely a new coat of paint. This album has staying power since there is no importance placed on shock of the new or gimmick/novelty. Everything unfolds with an organicness where emotion is not sacrificed for technique. It will be great fun to see what this ensemble offers up to the ears of listeners in the future.
Mike Nock Piano
Hamish Stuart Drums
Julien Wilson Tenor Saxophone
Jonathan Zwartz Double Bass
Maxwell Chandler Dec 2019
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There was a feather on the brim of my hat. Laughing, with gentle fingers, Sarah picked it off putting it in her pocket as she said something about a fallen angel.
Its origin was from the girl who once the party had started had tried by way of facilitating a pillow fight to get noticed after pretending to be drunk had failed.
Had the feather come to rest on the lapel of my jacket instead, it merely would have looked slovenly. I want to be alone, but I do not say it like someone whose real ambition is to be noticed. The curse is that I could achieve this but also realize that it would be a mistake. I drag myself out fur cameo appearances now and then, taking in humanity the way one would a homeopathic cure.
The last thing that she needs is the first thing that she tries for. What will she pretend that she is in dire need of the retrieving from my place tonight? No one is looking except me and that is only because I have a near on mania for watching people when they are unaware that I am doing so. The coast is clear and so she lets all boho pretensions drop away, putting her empty glass in the sink, even turning on the faucet for a moment to clean it, jutting out her bottom lip to blow a strand of hair out of her eye before turning off the stream.
She finds me in the thinning crowd. I had been bad and merely let my empty glass come to rest on the clutter table. What had she told me? Had she even mentioned the thing, or did we just look at each other and exchange nods pretending to have played out the scene so that we could cut to my capitulation. Two actors who know their lines by heart but are told to practice the scene while cameras are being set up for the next.
“That party wasn’t too bad, huh?”
Although I had my back to her to as I fixed us some nightcaps, she could still feel the face I had made.
“You didn’t like it? Why?”
“Everyone was too self-same, same point of references and opinions, or at least they pretended to be.”
These had been the friends which she introduced into the mix, the ones which she would get custody of where we to ever part ways and so, although it was not how I intended it, she took my comments as personal criticism.
Bad moments can not, are not to be avoided. This is the basic mistake most people make, in putting in the time to skirt around one they extend its lifespan. Wade through it as if something bad on the sidewalk that can’t be gone around.
Usually, I drove the turntable. Our tastes intersected with certain albums and although she enjoyed hearing these records, technically it was still me having chosen the moment’s soundtrack; a softer bone of contention between us.
“Why don’t you put something on?”
She waited for what she felt would inevitably be me giving her three titles to choose from, but I remained silent. I padded into the kitchen for some cheese and crackers which I hoped had not merely been dream wished for earlier in the evening.
My tablet was on the desk at the far left of the start of all the shelves of music. It was perfect, she could peek at the screen in hopes of seeing something good or at least gleaming some information more than what my always close to the vest allowed out. Aside from checking my terrible spelling:
There was nothing to be seen on the front tabs. I was taking my time, having been unable to fight the urge to arrange the crackers fan like on the plate, seats at an amphitheater there to watch the performance of a block of comte. She decided to click the back tab. It was the home page for Out of Your Head Records. A black background with a white skull possessing the look of if Keith Harring had designed a day of the Dead part invitation.
She clicks on the newest release, which is by composer/bassist Nick Dunston. I return with my carefully arranged plate whose cracker pattern we both quickly mess up. I flick on the Bluetooth speakers as to be able to fully appreciate the music.
This new(ish) artist run label eschews pigeonholing themselves or their mission via an overly specific description of what they are about. In general, it is all genre defying being of whatever turns the musicians/composers on, which is how it should be in this era of limitless exploration.
Jazz is always in flux. A component of this is generational, more so than any other contemporaneous music. With rock, regardless of era, certain touchstones such as Robert Johnson, The Beatles, will always be utilized. Having been a jazz fan for many a year with a fervor that verged on obsessive, I have noticed this generational effect with jazz. Of course, there are and will be exceptions to every rule but more often than not one can get a rough idea of a player’s age by cited main influences.
There will always remain the list of holy names, Miles, Coltrane, Ornette, Bird. And although even more abstract, the stones of the foundation; Duke, Satchmo, Fats. But rarely for instance will a young sax player list first Chu Berry or Coleman Hawkins as major influence. The further forward in time that we move, the more pushed up the decade ladder the list of influences becomes.
This is combined with the fact that a lot of if not most of the more recent generation of players have grown up on a not strictly listening to jazz diet. If nothing more interesting, rock was also in this early mix. This is not a bad thing as jazz briefly was in danger of becoming trapped under museum glass, losing that important in the moment aspect. Little snippets of improvised sonic vernacular Sonny or Trane had done, a showtune quote, suddenly being rigidly executed with the same unwavering uniformity of someone playing a Bach score.
Jazz should forever be in flux as to keep it in the moment. Now it can absorb influences from rock, modern classical and world music. There is also a worthwhile cross pollination with certain sub genres of hip hop (Yasiin Bey, Adrian Younge et al).
This entire album is evidence of someone who grew up with big ears. It is not just songs from outside of jazz which are then “jazzed” up nor is it outside of genre stylings Frankensteined on.
“S.S Nemesis” starts as a growing frenzy. It is all city dissonance, but one of the initial big cities which first sprang up from blood, dreams and ambitions. This is all caffeinated discord as heard through the open doors of the subway trains during their brief stops and the open windows of cars deadlocked in rush hour traffic. Further frenzied, pneumatic tubes pulse and spurt their message canisters into the office pool while out the windows cranes take a moment from picking at girders to swing their long necks to and fro to all the cacophony of near on Carl Stalling disturbance. It combines with Krupa-Rich pounding whose frenzy ignites a fire that’s all pre-Disney Time Square neon.
It quotes “Oh Susannah”, the unofficial song of the forty-niners. This guitar is the factotum of the dreamers rushing to California to pan for gold as to buy imagined lives, a paradise vaguely promised by someone further back the branches on the family tree.
It is akin to when Mingus would quote “Shortnin’ Bread”. A seemingly harmless piece of Americana that everyone sort of knows part of. Lightly scratch the surface and there are darker undertones. It’s the American can-do attitude, the self-made man trading up rags to riches. Behind the railroad tycoons and owners of the big apple skyline were all the men who swung hammers and never got invited to the table.
Also prominent in the song is a whistle. It is revelatory workers come to town on a Saturday night to spend a little hard-earned cash. It becomes shriller. The crowd secretly suspecting that they will never be allowed to live in the skyscrapers which they spend all day building, that the rivers had long ago given up their gold. Music and song for the man in any miserable position work wise was a brief respite and also a permissible lament.
The guitar sounds as if over flanged. The leering barstool vulture, hellbent on everyone noticing that at least he’s having a good time. The shrillness of the whistle, shriller still. If they can’t have these dreams, then they at least want distraction, blood.
“Vicuna”. The flute is short piquant bursts of a bird who is attempting to claim the entire fog shrouded forest of a Kurosawa film by landing on everything. The melody reoccurs by violin and guitar. The last part of the piece has percussion to the fore and the feel of a soundtrack for a Noh play.
“A Rolling Wave of Nothing” features in a dream vocals by Nick. The violin murmurs made sharp for their passion. Don’t call it sawing but rather a rough kiss. A soundtrack to a Warhol factory happening by someone trying on nihilism for a night. There is poetic use of space, the percussion, the song’s heartbeat which remains steady from the knowledge that anything said tonight can be taken back at breakfast.
The album has an overall urgency. It is someone’s train of thought made conversational all the while being cognizant of not coming on too strong just because it is night.
Maxwell Chandler Oct,2019
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To be a part of Paris is to have to occasionally deal with tourists. They go to the monuments and the museums to look at what they are supposed to.
Pre-internet and tablets, children would be given paints or colored paper as to amuse themselves in a constructive way. There was no demarcation line between (burgeoning) artist and “regular” child. Every child could paint and draw because there is an inherent freedom in that early age. The child artist practices their craft with a seriousness and ease. There is no need to give thought about how to earn one’s daily bread, only the creative process at hand is of importance.
It is said that a baby can swim, even in the deep end of the pool. There is the theory that this is because it still instinctually remembers the small floating world it had just left. Shortly after the nine-month mark, around the same amount of time it took to gestate, babies lose this ability. This is the start of limitations slowly learned.
In both cases, early age, children are tapped into that “other place” that true artists are able to have one-foot in. This is why artists like Picasso and Matisse realized the importance of trying to bring to the fore seemingly basic (crude) aspects of the visual as practiced by children. It was a method that could allow for a longer travel visa to that other place.
Picasso once said:
“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”
Tourists go to the museums. They look at some of the great modern pieces by names familiar to them, even though the theories behind the work often are not.
Once back home, held in secret, sometimes even to themselves, is a slight disappointment with these great modern works. Mondrian looked like a bunch of colored squares anyone with a ruler could have done, Picasso, Modigliani like scribbles of a child.
We lost God to the gleaming lights of the city. A quick look around, a shrug of the shoulders and then, the ritualized ordering of the first round of drinks. The warm weather and the first friends in from out of town.
Despite everybody, to some degree, now listening to their music via a digital device, Paris still has some great record stores. I am asked for recommendations of things to pick up. There is a tactile pleasure to poking around a record store, making chance discoveries. It is different than stateside where music is downloaded or arrives at the front door in a smiling box.
When I was younger, I would recommend things that I felt were 100% indictive of me, who I was. In my enthusiasm and earnestness, I gave no thought to tempering my selections. Someone who was just delving into jazz or classical music must enter into it as one does a pool, a little at a time. To the uninitiated, Cecil Taylor or Milton Babbitt may very well sound like a child letting loose with percussive fury upon a Fisher Price toy instrument.
I have learned to keep these things in mind when jotting down a list with my ever-present Parker on a napkin for guests.
Each artist utilizes or spends time to varying degrees in that other place. Not every modernist is all discordance nor anthems from the tower of babel which one must learn to appreciate like oysters or fernet. Put a little time in to develop a palette and what initially might have seemed the childlike disruptions of noise is actually highly advanced art. The child hits his toy xylophone three times in quick succession with a plastic mallet, Morton Feldman allows the briefest smile to lift up his heavy black framed glasses. Both are trying to articulate what they had seen and been inspired by there.
Multi-instrumentalist Michael Attias has clearly had his passport for the other place stamped many times. His new album Echoes la Nuit excites with its murmuring of dreams. The album is a solo affair with the musician/composer playing alto and piano, impressively, with no overdubs nor studio wizardry.
It is that genre of modern jazz which is basically (modern) classical. To listen to this or Elliot Carter, Morton Feldman, Penderecki et al is to know that there is no huge leap necessary to see similarities. Not necessarily in all sounding the same but rather encompassing like all the best modern art, components of both the spiritual and cerebral. The slow trance like concentration gives way to moments of the ecstatic which can sometimes best be expressed by aural waves of dissonance.
“Echoes 1: Mauve” starts with a brief piano statement. The saxophone runs ascend in see-saw fashion upwards. The migration of something meant to live its life mostly in the air but is reluctant initially to do so. The piano is contemplation of flight and the blue silvered air itself. The natural reverb and warmth of the horn’s cadence is joy. While the piano at times has a pedaled echo, which adds a chime like delicacy.
“Sea in Dark” has a piano intro which are block like chunks of stygian thought, birthed at a march’s pace. The horn is elongated notes akin to steam escaping from the machine birthing the dense slabs. The horn’s cadence becomes warmer, the piano murmurs its consent. It’s all legato mystery. In this land, we will all dream different things but of the same emotional makeup. An aural metamorphism as the sea is likely to produce, the horn a reed-tongued pagan call. Then the piano, a fragile dissipation of the tangible.
There have been plenty of other multi instrumentalists who recorded themselves speaking in multiple voices simultaneously. Here, Michael does it to please himself giving no forethought to showing off his chops. This lends an organic feel which then in turn bolsters the emotional resonance. With the casual jazz listener or one whose journey into the artform is in its nascence, there is an apprehension towards or dislike for post-bop genres as they are felt (to them) as potentially “overly noodle(y)”. Given the nature of this recording, it never feels as if you are listening to someone with amazing skill merely practicing or showing off.
The best recordings solicit multiple listens, each time offering up some new little gift. With the music which has become most compelling to me, I can not listen to any album at any time (Kind of Blue being the exception to the rule). However, when the situation is right, the correct music being played is a joy. This album is a new favorite to which I will find myself going back to when I need what it offers. Always the right music for the right time.
The rain is hitting against the window in a series of hard knocks. I like sleeping when it rains but not out here on the couch as that can never be a celebration of happy to be alone, happy to be blue.
I open my eyes. It is not rain but the needle hitting against the last groove in the record which I had fallen asleep listening to.
Maxwell Chandler April’19
The aptly titled Superjazzers Vol 2 is the second album by musician/composer Tim Willcox for the label NINJAZZ RECORDS. It is a quartet ensemble, with Tim’s tenor saxophone leading the way. The CD consists of all original material written by the band members.
The CD comes in a digipak holder with original artwork and album credits. As it could be said to be my raison d’être, I always lament the lack of liner notes. Even I must admit though, it is a dying art. Even more so now with so many people buying their music via digital download.
“Valeria” is a ballad that is sweet but not overly saccharine. The sonics here, and for the entire album possess a full warm sound, which is not always the de-rigueur with more recent recordings. There is very much a sense of the band playing together and not at different hours from within Hirst-like glass cubes. Tim favors a rich mid-register tone that allows for conveyance of emotions.
The band utilizes some interesting choices. Here, it is ending the piece with a drum outro executed at a laconic pace but with a density of storm-rain.
“Teraj” was written by pianist David Goldblatt. The start of the song with its polyrhythmic percussion is infectious. It reminds one of Dave Brubeck’s “Un-square Dance”, not in time/meter, but rather in its ability to make one want to “play” along on whatever is available to tap.
There is a percussive aspect to the piano initially too, but emotion is not sacrificed to speed of execution. Tonally the piano is The Bard’s Puck; sprite like in its playfulness. The slowed down long lines of the horn, a blue friend in need of cheer via its mischief and perhaps a few drinks.
The ensemble incorporates their influences into both their playing and writing. What makes it work is that there is never a feeling of mere parroting nor reproducing moments initially created by others.
“The Pat” written by Tim starts off with nearly a minute and a half of solo playing. From his tone and manner of playing the listener remains engaged. There is never the feel of bearing witness to someone practicing scales or showing off.
The rest of the band seamlessly joins in, it becomes a continued conversation held in delicate, hushed tones.
“Simplicate” by Charlie Doggett combines an air of contemplation with that of mystery. The start of the piece has the piano playing over bowed bass and world music sounding percussion. The rapid staccato of the piano has it at times sounding almost like a hammered dulcimer. The textures generated once the saxophone come in are that of an enveloping fog or descending night.
Everything which is appealing about this ensemble is offered up within the body of this song.
The band has multiple aspects to it which are presented in the different styles of each of the songs. The variety does not prevent the album from having a cohesive feel. It projects the different sonic interests of the band organically, rather than just trying to hook in fans of various styles ala some type of musical buffet.
The album is a great introduction to a forward-thinking hard bop group that does not rigidly adhere to genre.
Tim Willcox- Tenor Saxophone
Bill Athens- Bass
Charlie Doggett- Drums & Percussion
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Jazz was the great American art form, but it had to go overseas to France, which served as a cultural hothouse, for it to gain its dignity before returning home with the added luster which comes from being appreciated with enthusiasm and seriousness by more than a pocketful of aficionados.
Jazz was initially introduced in Europe via the progenitors of what we now call The Lost Generation: artists and their immediate social circle. Also helping to spread this artform were the American G.I’s. The Harlem Hell fighters’ (369th infantry regiment) band was also a large factor in the introduction of jazz to France.
From the very first wave that initially gazed down the Champ Elysees and heard the enthusiastic applause of an audience only concerned with the music, carrying on to more recent times, there is a long list of jazz musicians who became willing ex-pats. If France did not remain their new home, then it was often the jumping off point for the rest of Europe.
Now a Swiss citizen, Bronx born percussionist Alvin Queen started gigging at the age of eleven. A growing reputation and experience allowed him to deepen his ties to the then thriving jazz community.
Just as bluesman must “pay their dues” by living, then turning the sorrows of life into musical poetry; a comparable but vanishing aspect of the jazz life is the practical application mentorship of being in someone more established (and often a little older) bands. This method of learning the ropes initially came about from necessity. In jazz’s nascence, there were no conservatories nor was it treated stateside as a serious art form. Hard as this life could be it did allow for each player to develop a personal sound and approach to the craft.
Alvin served in a series of prestigious bands before being afforded the opportunity to go over to Europe as a member of trumpeter Charles Tolliver’s ensemble in 1971.
After several tours in Europe with Charles’ group, Alvin would get the call to join a new iteration of Pianist Horace Silver’s group, having already notably appeared in a previous incarnation.
Flashing forward to 1977, the jazz landscape was in what seemed then a fatal tailspin, with emotion and authenticity counting very little to dwindling audiences. Alvin made the decision to join the many expatriate musicians whose work was out of vogue or to whom their art was too serious to compromise for public attention.
Europe would embrace Alvin. He eventually settled in Switzerland obtaining dual citizenship, which he held for thirty years. As of 2016 Alvin had given up his dual citizenship but before that had continued to always pay his taxes. He chose to switch to a single passport to simplify his tax situation giving up his American citizenship.
Despite now being based out of Switzerland, Alvin enthusiastically did work for the U.S State Department serving as a cultural ambassador, touring Brazil, Africa and Japan. A similar role previously held by Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck and Dizzy Gillespie.
“Jazz Meets France” was a program sponsored by the French-American Cultural Foundation. It had an impressive pedigree, with Wynton Marsalis serving as honorary chairman and The Smithsonian Institute’s Dr. David Skorton as master of ceremonies.
The program was intended to commemorate the centennial of the United States entry into the first world war. The other important thing being commemorated in this cultural event were the Harlem Hell fighter’s appearance in France.
“Jazz Meets France” was to be another opportunity for Alvin to combine the two worlds, the country where he came from and Europe where he flourishes. United through his art and acknowledging the historic precedents of which he is another link in the generational chain.
In the current political climate, Alvin has now found himself of one of several types facing ill treatment under the official visage of “procedure” which overlooks common sense.
When applying for the necessary permissions a youthful offense from half a century ago popped up. Homeland security with their travel ban edicts became involved.
This was the first in a series of strange events. At the time of the minor offenses, Alvin had been a youthful offender and as to not taint any kind of potential future the records were supposed to be sealed.
To make the situation more bewildering is the fact that up until 2016 Alvin had been issued six new passports over the past half a century with no issues arising. He had even traveled to the states several time too. The filing of an 01B work visa form would get Alvin dispensation to enter the U.S.
Once these were filed with the pertinent information and accompanying fingerprints, new problems arose. The fingerprints dredged up FBI files as old as the other records.
A truth Dostoevsky uttered which transcends era and nation is:
“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”
A negative tradition involved with jazz is harassment by the police. Out of all the outsider-artists, musicians, especially jazzmen have always made the easiest target for authorities. Unlike their painter or writer counter parts they are easier to get a hold of as they practice their craft in the most public manner.
The frequency of musician crack downs is cyclical, and it was during one of the heavier seasons that a not yet adult Alvin found himself swept up in a raid.
While socializing with friends, between jam sessions and pick up gigs Alvin happened to be in a car that the authorities took interest in. His friend had rented the vehicle and in the trunk unknown to him was an unloaded gun.
Not bothering to sort out degree of culpability, they were all brought in. Because of his age, Alvin was too young to be kept at The Tombs and so was remanded to Rikers Island.
It was the eve of Thanksgiving and while households all across the nation were preparing to host guests and feast Alvin found himself being given a jelly sandwich. Two starched white pieces of bread smothering some grape jelly which was more sugar than fruit yet still could not get rid of the sour taste in his mouth.
Alvin languished in Rikers for three and a half weeks. His loss of freedom underscored by seeing the bottom half of planes coming and going from La Guardia Airport. When Alvin’s case was finally brought before the judge, no charges were filed. Regardless of what genre or era, jazz has always been about freedom. A constant of freedom is unlimited possibilities and potential. The information for these incidents were supposed to be sealed and even then, they were predigital records which someone had to make an effort to excavate.
This is a perfect symmetry of oppression. Half a century later and with pedigree and many accolades under his belt, Alvin finds himself not only once again caught up in a hassle but from the very same dropped and supposed to be sealed charges.
The wheels of justice are said to move slow but after a year the 01B form sits at The American Embassy. A sort of mute road marker serving as example of how not to treat an artist who has given much and with lots still left to offer.
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I did not like it but knew that she needed to have a female friend to whom she could confide things to. By an unspoken agreement, she settled on Claire.
Claire had a tough time concentrating, which combined with a terrible memory made her as appealing as someone in her role could be to me.
Lucia got what she wanted out of the arrangement too as she really only needed someone to listen. Ultimately, the who did not matter as it was not in her nature to ever listen to advice, save for what came from her Nona.
I overheard her on the phone once quite by accident. She was telling Claire that she liked to look at me sometimes when I slept as I appeared so innocent then. I wondered if she had come to this realization the previous night as I vaguely recalled having strange dreams that her staring could have caused.
Regardless, she was wrong. In sleep however I may look, it was not an aspect but a void as I was temporarily not there.
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Listening to Respighi’s song cycle based off of the writing of Shelley.
It is Italy. Not of the places for tourists but of nature being observed and felt by those not born here, which is often how an area is more fully appreciated. There are swells and undulating waves of sound. It is all lushness but with something dark just under the surface.
The most beautiful flowers smell the strongest, near on cloying, as they start to die.
Shelley reclining on the deck of his little boat, a copy of Keats in his hand.
The sun shines down, the same ocean which is now a vast tapestry of shimmering jewels will, upon embracing him, turn a singular dark blue as his waterlogged jacket.
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It was as if every trial from the year at an end jumped onto my shoulders. Piled upon, I could barely stand and had no energy nor desire to go out and tip my cup to the start of a new number on the calendar.
I was waiting an hour or so more into the night before putting my bathrobe on as to avoid becoming the cliché of the hermit. I had just put on some Pres when there was a knock at my door. Lucinda often refused to recognize my self-imposed exiles regardless of the reason.
She wanted to take me out as no one could remember when they had last seen me.
“I like the music…is this…”
She said the wrong nick-name.
“Well, I am much more honky-tonk” showing a toothy smile.
I felt like a little kid, the world of childhood where there is a set schedule for everything and any deviation is cause for upset. Four O’clock is graham cracker time regardless of where the child may be. The music played, a sense of anxiety briefly flashed across the face as I prepared to beg off until some abstract time in the future. I was told that just the fact I had become so apprehensive was an indication to her that I had to go out with her.
She started driving, away from the city as to hinder my ability to beg off after one round and head home. Every third beautiful woman I met outside of the city proper who had no compunction about being barefoot at any social gather turned out to be one of Lucinda’s cousins.
I only seemed to run into them outside of the city and only ever when with Lucinda. Despite this, they all seemed to know everyone that I did. This cousin was a part time chef and although I instantly forgot it, her name perfectly suited her and had that ring of tradition to it like all the rest of the fruit on the family tree.
We sat on a couch which initially to me looked beat to hell but turned out to be rather comfortable. The cousin came back with some dull silver tulip shaped ice-cream dishes.
The cannonball sorbet got its heavy, vertigo inducing power from the white Jesus that the Loganberries had been soaked in. Always, for seven days as it seemed biblically appropriate.
Although I prided myself on tolerance for drink, it very quickly became a bit much. Lucinda had grown up on the stuff, or at the very least its relatives. So, when she described its effects, they differed drastically from those of mine.
For her, it was more like a heavy velvet curtain of such a rich, dark hue as to hide all the dust slowly descending after the last act of a play, the plot of which the audience had already forgotten.
It was not that I was uncomfortable in our collective silence but I had to do something to temper how the walls kept rippling towards the center of the room then back out again like cheap sheets of plastic.
I flipped through the records and found Mozart’s clarinet concerto with a cover so faded I could not tell who the orchestra was. It had been her father’s and although she never listened to it, she had kept it.
The music started. The beauty was almost too much, the beauty caught in my throat. Elbows on knees, chin in palms I covered my face with my hands. Lucinda’s hands went to my shoulders.
“Shhh..there you go, there goes last year, say goodbye.”
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I travel a lot and I find myself in the same cities, always at the same times of year. I look out the window of my temporary studio. The day is ending and although I am shortly to be among others for drinks and shop talk, here in this city during this hour I always choose solitude.
Soon it will be dark and the city will wrap the delicate sheen of snow around itself, a thin veil put on in the false hope of a little warmth. I stand at the oversized window with my hands clasped behind my back in a painterly pose.
Now it comes, the hiss of the sun as it sinks down into the encroaching shadows on the outskirts of town, it is a requiem of sorts. I should think less in terms tinged with a finality. If I must stay within the parameters of a fatalisim, then perhaps it should be more akin to Strauss’ “Transfiguration” as to combine the beauty of finishes with poetics that never truly cease.
I had read an article once, the gist of which was that by the time one was old enough to appreciate things such as oysters, chanterelles and good single malts our taste buds are on the decline, not as vibrant as in our youth. An irony of taste, when we could more dynamically physically appreciate certain gastronomical sensualities we do not feel the appealing call of such things.
Age not only fosters culinary sophistication though. A much younger me in Vienna was going to the Zentralfriedhof cemetery in Vienna to see Beethoven’s grave which I thought the height of sophistication.
In my tunnel vision rush to see Herr Beethoven I tripped over the somber balanced cube of Schoenberg’s grave. Lifting my knee up, I shook the injured foot the way a cat does when first trying to walk after being given a bath. I did not take a moment to contemplate Schoenberg’s grave, not knowing then that down the corridor of time he would be far more important to me than Beethoven.
Youth or just starting out in one’s raison d’être does not automatically connotate lack of depth or substance however. Twenty-five years ago, in the nascence of his career bandleader/musician/composer Patrick Zimmerli created Shores Against Silence.
The album originally was passed around without any kind of official release ala variation on the migration of a bootleg. Now twenty-five years later Songlines Recordings has released it commercially as a companion piece to its current musical sibling, Clockworks.
It is a young work, an artist at the start of their career. However, Patrick eschews the inherent dangers of many works created during such a phase, the over fecundity of ideas which can slacken a work’s tension. There is the element of him wearing some of his influences on his sleeve but this is not meant as a pejorative statement.
Such 20th century composers as Elliot Carter and Charles Ives are easily seen to be Patrick’s artistic forefathers. The liner notes, which are informative in relaying the works’ genesis and history mention Carter. This is no mere lip service in putting forth one of the artistic banners under which he rallied. Many of the pieces would not be out of place on a program which included Carter (“Night Fantasy”, “Piano Concerto” or “Variations for Orchestra”).
The first five of the six tracks are programmatic. The album’s centerpiece is “The Paw” whose name was inspired by a slightly misconstrued concept of artist Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968). Duchamp had started out as a traditional canvas painter but quickly grew bored with the restrictions and expectations of the medium. He steadily shed what it meant to be an artist, how an artist was viewed and the definition of what was “art”. Concept and perception became key components of his work as he shed what in French is colloquially known as la patte (the paw, the discernable touch and voice of an artist). It was not about ridding the individual in art so much as fostering an inexhaustible freedom brought forth by abandoning long established precepts. This proves to be an apt title for the track as the music is genre defying, bursting forth Juno like from forward thinking jazz’s head.
“The Paw” begins with a lone descending bass, the piano merges into the introspection, both picking up the tempo, cajoled by the drummer’s cymbals. When the saxophone appears, it does not so much join in as with its long ethereal lines rise out of the contemplative air of the piece. The aspects of the piece changes but never feel Frankenstein(ed).
Patrick’s sax varies delivery of its emotional cadence via initially changing to rapid clusters of notes and then towards the end of the piece collaborative dissonance with the piano. The piece ends with the horn fluttering away on murmured breath and the soft chime of some final piano notes.
“Conceptualysis” was inspired by Pierre Boulez who stateside became better known as a conductor. Initially though he was one of the young lion composers though who took a cue from the freedom first hard won by the likes of Schoenberg and Stravinsky.
Boulez’s early work was dense and contemplative, aspects of which are utilized in Patrick’s composition. Percussion heralds the piece’s start, the sound of something tumbling, animating everything that it comes into contact with as it slowly tumbles downward.
There are frequent tempo changes which lend a protean air to the piece. The bass is the steady purple-blue of a night sky over a city whose ambient source of illumination is not visible. The luminescence is mirrored by the jagged angular slashes of saxophone.
Within all of this teetering on the verge or discordance the piece leaps in and out of aspects of what would more traditionally be thought of as a jazz piece.
The bright rapid chime of piano is the path dissolving under one’s feet regardless of whether they wish to go up or downtown.
The middle section features a rolling effect percussion punctuated by ringing of piano. Cresting atop this pattern is the saxophone which eventually finds itself left alone to murmur of its journey. The piece ends with a sudden sped up tempo and shout of finish from the saxophone.
A compliment and endorsement which I can give Patrick, and his works, is the fact that this early work makes me want to seek out his recent ones to see how he has built off of these ideas; what has been added to and what has been dropped.
The sessions were originally recorded on DAT tapes, copies of which made the rounds or New York downtown/loft scene. While getting hold of them back then must have been exciting as it would feel to be a membership into a secret club Songline Records has done a great job with issuing it officially. The sound has warmth and intimacy. The liner notes are informative in explaining the ideas behind the works. The cover image looks like a Rothko slowly moving through a light fog.
In my last few articles I have delved into artists whose works are genre defying. With a possible encroaching zeitgeist which could look down upon or even curtail freedom it is important that we foster it where and whenever we encounter it. While also not forgetting that freedom is not necessarily about rebelling but equally about taking advantage of all of the things which are available to us.
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Late morning, November. I stroll along one of the paths in the park. The sun is bleeding through the variegated fan of leaves which illuminates the faintest blush of last summer. My hand goes into the pocket used for the specific purpose of a vice, to check. The cigarette money is all gone, on the pavement are the cracked lines of a map leading to all of yesterday’s dreams.
I was just killing time until the festival tonight. Alone, I walk alongside my musings as I alternated in rapid gear shifts between melancholy and exaltation.
There has always been a greater enjoyment for me in going to the cafes frequented by the locals. In patronizing such places, one feels not merely a tourist moving through the superficial strata of an area but fully in the stream of life.
There was the desire for tea but no café did it right, even when it was a quality brand. The water was always too hot and so devoid of oxygen being of muted flavor at best. I did not want coffee either but there was the desire to sit and people watch. As I worked, pen in hand no matter where I was in the world, I could not use the justification of “vacation” for so early a bout of day drinking.
Out on the sidewalk was Sidonie. She liked my accent, insisting nearly every time on me saying certain words not for what they meant but how I said them. There was the smile which I took as a sign to stop at her place and nurse a coffee anyways. All along this street too, the cafes and boutiques were preparing for tonight’s festival.
I sat down at a corner table outside and watched. It was her job to hang the fruit shaped lights from the lower branches of the trees. Even though the café was well staffed she had volunteered herself for the task.
It was not so much that she desired to be helpful but that the job allowed her to linger in front of windows, pantomiming the untangling of cords as she watched how others lived. Of course, I was simpatico.
When she could no longer linger without people knowing of her sham, she finished and cautiously climbed back down her ladder, folding it closed the way a musician would their instrument after a performance.
As she had spent so much time doing the lights she felt it only fair to go back inside, asking me to come in for a chat before I left.
My coffee was gone and the flow of people going by had reduced down to a trickle. Compulsively I ate the little chocolate covered almond which had been seated on the saucer and melted somewhat from the espressos ambient warmth.
I went in to chat. The dry voice of the radio sings a song from yesterday. Her back had been turned to me and I had heard her tonelessly sing along in her husky voice for a moment before becoming aware of my presence.
“Do you know this song?”
I nodded. She seemed somewhat surprised. For lack of anything new to talk about, she asked me about my taste in music.
“Mainly jazz and classical, Stravinsky, Carter, Piston, the twentieth century guys.”
The classical composers I knew would be pointless to go into with her as the names would seem a parade of babble. We talked of jazz, a favorite professor had turned her on to some of it. She wanted to know what I thought good.
I still treasured those whose names comprised my list of favorites but it got me to thinking. Music is a ritual, a place and a moment. Only the latter managing to remain completely alive as it is ever in flux, constantly shedding its skin to the song of the charmer.
An important component of all jazz is that “in the moment” element. This applies not just to the performers though but also to the sonic vernacular. When Sonny Rollins initially covered Broadway tunes such as “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise” or “Mack the knife” or when forward thinking artist started embracing African and Mideastern elements, this was jazz as a living thing, still growing, expanding outwards as it pulled new things into itself.
There is still much joy to be found in hearing a Duke tune played live or a young gun tearing up “Cherokee”. However, if one is to really contemplates what is being heard then regardless of what spontaneity the soloist’s statements may constitute, it is akin to hearing a pianist conjure Schubert.
If it is to remain true to its spirit, then what we consider as jazz being created now, need not have some subgenre label slapped on almost as a caveat. Just call it all jazz. Jazz as a living thing, working off the zeitgeist would incorporate world music, modern classical and even turnbulism. The previous incarnations can still be revered but the verbiage of categorization keeps a lot of the current generation, looking to make statements not in the language of their forefathers but rather their own, marginalized and thus harder to find.
Multi-instrumentalist/band leader Jon Armstrong’s new album Burnt Hibiscus is a prime example of continued artistic evolution of the form. He eschews concern over genre label for the restless curiosity which has always served him well.
Burnt Hibiscus is for a ten-piece ensemble which includes vocals by Sheela Bringi (who also plays an eclectic selection of instruments including Celtic harp, Harmonium and Bansuri flute throughout). There are seven tracks on the album for which Jon incorporated different classical Indian ragas and scales, one for each song. This combined with the combination of the ensemble which is comprised largely of lower end brass and bass clarinets gives the work a cohesive feel and distinct cadence.
“There They Are” starts off with a solo lament from trumpet which would not sound out of place in a New Orleans dirge. It is joined by the voice of a harp, this melancholy beauty conjuring up a possible vision of a jazzman standing at the pearly gates, the trumpeter now not having to sing for his super but to reiterate why he is there.
The vocals have an ethereal quality to them, delicate and plaintive. The lyrics are put forth in a somewhat opaque manner, which is all right as there is an intimacy to them that fosters emotion. The song has the sad beautiful quality to it as if witnessing the first few petals to fall off a flower.
The songs are all various tempos. Depending upon the mood I was in, I found myself gravitating towards one over the other but there are no weak moments of execution.
“Apricot” starts off with Jon’s lone saxophone. With a laconic tone, it is the inner musing thoughts that serves as a type of prelude to weight and motion. There is a descending bass drone of tuba and the flurry of percussion over which long lines of vocals unfurl, mirrored now by the saxophone. Sonically, a feeling, denizens of the downtown sound floating upon lotus leaves. This song shows off to best effect the interesting instrumentation of the ensemble and how densely compelling a pattern they achieve.
“Flat Water”, clocking in at a little over ten minutes is the longest track. It starts off trance inducingly slow, giving the effect of something happening steadily, a little bit at a time, such as rain dripping off leaves. There is an elemental and contemplative feel to the section where reeds are introduced. This piece could be modern classical as done by someone like Lou Harrison who drew from the idiom of other cultures.
The album does not seek to be “authentic” in its use of ragas nor does it merely slap such inflections onto extended jazz numbers. It incorporates and draws inspiration from not only them but elements of 20th century classical. This is in the spirit of jazz.
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