Jon Armstrong’s Burnt Hibiscus

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.

She laughed;

“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.

Maxwell Chandler

-Midtown-

 

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Greg Murphy: Summer Breeze

There is a whisper in my heart, echoing down a dead end street full of disregarded desires. The brief moments in which we allow ourselves to enjoy the small pleasures of life are akin to a treasure that is never accrued. I had not been intent upon anything other than dipping my toe, swimming in the stream of life for a few hours before once again taking up the pen.

She sat a few stools down from me with no other strangers between us serving as a buffer zone. I watched her absent mindedly in much the same way one would contemplate a painting in an empty museum. The ice in my drink was the priceless gem that I wanted to give her.

We talked. Our taste in literature was too different for one of us to not appear as judgmental. Switching to music, I nearly appeared more closed minded than I am by thumbing my nose at the mention of certain standards that she enjoyed.

Collecting our glasses with a smile, the bartender found a good luck charm for the night. Eventually though, the empty glass will look like all the others. The velocity of her kiss made me dizzy, carrying me home quicker than she could hold me.

I lay on my side, looking at the elongated reflection of myself in the goldfish bowl which I kept on the night table for emptying my change into. In these fleeting hours before dawn I am made pure once again by my solitude, an encroaching ecstasy as experienced by the lonely.

The sun rises and I walk on the first few pale rays which pierce through the window into the kitchen to make some coffee.

I sit at my desk since my stomach is not yet ready for toast. The coffee is strong and hot, its seeming perfection making me feel that it should be accompanied by some music. I reach for the new release by Greg Murphy, Summer Breeze. I do sometimes miss records with their soft pop, a fire about to start that would precede the music, regardless of genre.

In thinking of our conversation last night, I had known from the get-go that she was right but had been interested in hearing her defense of standards and covers.

Regardless of how far afield one goes in life or geographically, we carry our homes in the music that we listen to and the food that we cook. There can be a favorite dish, cooked over the course of traveling or a lengthy stay somewhere. The ingredients and equipment used to execute the dish may vary but the essence remains the same. Songs too are like that, whether by the original artist played over the span of a career or their peer(s) for whom it provided inspiration.

The inspiration emanating from one artist to another. When not used as a lazy shorthand, this is what is meant when an artist’s name is used to describe another’s tone or way of playing.

Greg over the course of his career has played in all different types of ensembles. Some of his influences are detectable but in a way which makes him an artistic “son of” as opposed to mere stylistic parroting. For his new release his choice of material is a mix of originals along with some covers whose style resonates simpatico with the program of music.

The players on the CD are his regular band along with some guest stars to expand the ensemble’s sonic possibilities.

Fall”, a great Wayne Shorter tune, retains the spirit of the original while letting his bands’ identity shine through. I have always been a fan of Greg’s playing on slower pieces as it really gives one a feel for his cadence, his crystalline tink-plink. For this piece he utilizes space in a way that it is as important as what he is actually playing. An intentional stutter of beauty. This is one of the pieces which features Josh Evans on trumpet. His tone is mid ranged and round. There is an unhurried elegance to it, all soft angles of a night where no matter what happens, it will be good.

Tsk” is an original, written by Greg. It starts off as a sort of sanctified lament that slowly unfurls into a three-way conversation, murmured by keyboard, bowed bass and trumpet. The piece if not suite like in construction, is so in intent with its shifting moods and tempos all; revolving around an established aural theme. A beautiful mid-section showcases Eric Wheeler’s vociferous bass pulses and drones over Kush Abadey’s brush and cymbal work. When Greg returns to the song his keyboard serves as punctuation marks for sentences of varying length exclaimed by trumpet and staccato bass. Elements of fusion when it was not overblown are incorporated into the second half of the song. All the sonic forward motion is brought to an end by the squeak of a trumpet and piano strings being caressed so that they sigh akin to a hand dulcimer.

Cedar Salad” is another original written by Greg. It has late era hard bop in its DNA. Eric Wyatt sits in on saxophone and the interplay among the musicians never betrays that he is not a regular member of the band. It is a cooker without having to resort to merely playing off of (blues) heads. There are some great lines played in unison by trumpet and saxophone.  A fullness of sound exists on this piece which despite a quicker tempo, never lapses into mere cacophony.

Malou Beauvoir does guest vocals on several tracks including the cd’s namesake. The most successful track is a cover of Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady“. This song has been often recorded both as an instrumental and with vocals. While there are many amazing versions, it is a standard that does not have the one definitive singer/version. Despite familiarity with the song, part of its unending brilliance is to serve as fertile ground for each singer to make to it what they will, a sonic Rorschach test.

The song starts at a slow tempo with muted trumpet shadowing the vocal lines. Malou has a strong voice which never lapses into an over showy dinner theater cadence. It is lower and warm, sometimes verging on horn-like. Both the ability of the band and the singer make it an organically perfect fit.

Rather than trying to make the song her own or sing it in the manner of one of her predecessors had, her approach is to do a highly enjoyable execution.

The last half of the song has a quicker tempo accompanied by a latin tinged feel. Some may feel it an odd choice to what is often interpreted as a paean to melancholy, however the original version was instrumental (1932) and had a sunnier program having been inspired by three of Duke’s teachers that would summer in Europe. The song ends with Malou who splits her time between Belgium, Paris and New York murmuring in French.

Summer Breeze is Greg’s debut for the label Whaling City Sound. The sonics are spot on with nice ambient warmth throughout.

I drink coffee, the ink flows the music plays. Each sentence is a kingdom. Those things left unsaid, the words which lay in wait, the space between the heavens to be revisited again and again like a good song.

 

Maxwell Chandler

Midtown

 

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Orphanage – Maxwell Chandler

My thoughts move like the needle of a compass slowly setting on a position. It was all those years ago, when we had first arrived in Paris, well before we found our footing, living over in the eighth. The excitement of being in Paris, walking the same streets as that of all of my heroes. At night, lying in bed, I would go down the long list; all the names forming a sort of prayer.

Of course I could not sleep. Powered by nervous energy I could not even manage to walk at a normal pace, which would have allowed me to take more in. Every café called to me. Initially I could not sit still long enough to be noticed and then become categorized as a regular. No surprise either that I suffered from insomnia.

There was a heat wave, my heart raced; I wondered what happened to everyone that I used to know. Even those whose fates I had long ago stopped caring about. It was just a temporary malady. The heat also messed with all the birds too. They sang, their calls coming at the wrong hours, mixing worry and confusion, groups of three or four voices echoing from the treetops and balcony flower boxes which clung to black wrought iron railings.

My head felt like it was going to crack open as I sat in the tub; hands clasped, arms around my knees which were pulled up to my chest. You rubbed a cold cloth down my back. I am thinking of horses. Momentarily I had thought that maybe I was going crazy. Years later, after everything else, I now know that had not been the case as I had actually been enjoying the sensation.

Now, I recline in a tub, several arrondissements over, Mallarme and a tea balancing on the lip. I wet a face cloth and put its hot weight on my forehead. I pull at its edge with my fingers, draping it over my nose. Still damp but no longer dripping, It forms a rough hewn royal blue shroud that bears a resemblance to me. I slowly exhale through the cloth and try to imagine who wonders what ever became of me.

 

 

 

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Rudy Van Gelder Dies at 91

The sad passing of one of the most important non-musicians in the world of modern Jazz.
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/26/arts/music/rudy-van-gelder-audio-engineer-who-helped-define-sound-of-jazz-on-record-dies-at-91.html?_r=0

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Time Change – Maxwell Chandler

I always found the fatigue in the maid’s face oddly attractive. I tried not to leave too big a mess as the typical tourist and business traveler was wont to do.alley late at night

I did not require service every day which I think was secretly appreciated.

One day my timing was off, I got back from lunch before my room was ready. So patiently and unobtrusively did I stand in the corner that the maid soon forgot my presence.

As she was making up the bed she paused and looked out the window. I was the voyeur receiving knowledge for my discretion.

How long would she look? Despite being younger than I, for her there was no longer any dreams of escape but now merely that of brief distractions.

Once again aware of my presence, she blushed, backing out of the room, pulling her cart after her.

Without having sought to, she influenced me. Out of curiosity I let my gaze drift out the window, not necessarily interested in what I would see but rather what I would think in thoughts drifting.

Not meant in the same way as used to describe a maudlin holiday special, talking to you on the phone with the curtains drawn is timeless. There seems to be, as the conversation ambles, all different aspects of me and not just me as I am, but also as I had been and will be that take turns rising to the foreground.

I want.

I did.

I have.

I lost.

What times is it there?

 

-finis-

 

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Jazz Pianist Claude Williamson Has Passed

http://www.jazzwax.com/2016/07/claude-williamson-1926-2016.html

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Smoke in the Lobby – Maxwell Chandler

We were in her hotel room because my tiny place had been made even smaller by the still drying paintings. Even though she was going home at the end of the week and there were parts of Vienna that she still wished to see, I stubbornly remained too sick to go out for more than a quick meal nearby.

While using her full bathroom mirror which allowed for a better shave than that of my small circle, as I smoothed my left cheek I once again told myself that I really was sick but that I could make far more of an effort, this debating continuing onto my right cheek.

A beautiful day, the windows stretched out their wings wide, reaching towards the Stadt park. We drank vermouth and sodas lying atop the covers while listening to bop.

We fell asleep. I awoke before her, the sun still shining. The perfect moment and I knew that she was truly going home soon.  20160706_090958

I put on my most unwrinkled shirt. We ran all over the city and when her legs became tired we barnstormed with a crazy Serbian taxi driver. I loaded her up with chocolates and kirsch for her journey home. Sneaking into the opera house to see the Rodin bust of Mahler, my wet shoes squeaked but still didn’t give us away.

Now she is gone. I must find a new framer since Marc ran away with a student from Algiers, at least temporarily.
I find myself going back to all the places we had been; as if there were a chance of glimpsing at least her shadow and then by stepping on it she would be unable to leave. I play our records over and over but I would have anyways.

I am sitting in the Stadt park sketching. A few benches down from me a girl stands, thighs holding her bicycle as she throws something in the trash. Her figure is made to seem plump by her sky blue capris and white ankle socks. I notice her brown mole above the corner of her right lip which slowly twitches in concentration.

As I turn to a clean page and settle she is already off. I do some detailed studies of acanthus and some poppies. I want to enjoy the weather but now indirectly so I stop at a café on my way home.

At the counter is the girl from the park whom I now find myself standing beside. She is taller than I, which had earlier been camouflaged by the bicycle.

I think of a passage from Don Quixote. The Don had told his man Sancho to go by himself to see the Don’s raison d’ etre, Dulcimina. In doing so, Sancho would then come to understand the reason for the arduous mission that the Don and he were on.

Sancho went and not being beset by passion or delusions as was his master reported back a far less superior picture including the descriptive phase:

“A horsey scent.”

Of course she had been out in the sun riding a bicycle. Two people together do not always produce roses either but it was made more tolerable by the activity which went into creating the bouquet.

I came out of my musing to sip my coffee. The girl was gone, replaced by a man with a camera around his neck carefully unfolding a map.

Finis

 

 

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