Syndicated Jazz columnist. A literate take on a great American art form now gone global.
Posted in Review on April 11, 2019
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
Posted in Uncategorized on January 17, 2019
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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Posted in Article on November 24, 2018
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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Posted in Uncategorized on April 4, 2017
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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Posted in Short Story on February 16, 2017
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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Posted in Review on December 28, 2016
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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