Posts Tagged jazz
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 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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Coming in from lunch as always, unless it is nighttime and I have finished working, I am alone. In my solitude I remain silent, not feeling the need to make a show of how tired I am after my long walk back on a full stomach.
A plump fly sits on the edge of the bed, perhaps confusing the brown duvet for soil. Like me, he wants only to take an hour or two to sleep in the warm sun. When I stir, no matter how fast he flies away, later on I will still manage to capture him with my prose.
I must be careful though, to not metamorphose him into a type of insect which could bite and make me sick.
Not too long with my head down and I wake up having left my food stupor behind. I work for a few hours, the words mount up in pleasant cascades which make me giddy until everything seems to be covered in ink and one would have to lie on their belly to write on what remained of the whiteness of the wall.
Now I can go out and work up an appetite, accompanied depending upon what pattern of people the city is wearing, by the heat of desire.
I grab my book bag from its place by the door. Locking up I take the stairs and pat my pocket three times for luck. Once I own a home I will keep the keys on an oval brass keychain as would have been handed to any gumshoe in an old film.
I will still travel the world and even though I would not need it again until I was once more home, no matter where I was, I would keep it in my pocket letting it weigh my coat down on the left side. After becoming used to the weight and learning to keep my pen in my right pocket as to prevent any knocking together with the brass, I would not even need to go home. I would carry it with me, embodied by the brass in my pocket.
Amy did not understand why I did not merely buy the so often described keyring instead of the ordeal of working towards becoming a home owner of which she suspected contributed to my moodiness. No, no. It was a phony faith which I feared. An act, such as just totting around the keychain, was a pantomime of satiated ambition.
The poet in me once said during a party by way of dramatically filling in a dull silence that we carry our homes in our hearts, particularly with the food we cook and the songs we sing.
A correlation between cooking and music, specifically jazz is that one can have a recipe but then depending upon location, available ingredients and even mood there are changes or improvisations made from the established conception. Just as a musician may improvise off of “Melancholy Baby” so too can it occur with a pot of gumbo or Coq Au Vin.
Stylistically, whether it is food or music sometimes there is a sea change within the creator which is not about rejecting the familiar ancestry but building off of it to create something new but still containing recognizable components.
The debut of John Schott’s new album and trio Actual Trio travels along such lines. The trio’s set up is that of a classic guitar trio, this familiar ground serves as a sort of jumping off point. The material on the album is all original compositions. While not a radical stylistic departure from its trio forefathers neither is there any museum glass stagnation.
“Frequently asked Questions” has a laconic strolling quality to its structure. There is an almost programmatic feel to the piece. Me, someone, flapping madly the lapels of my raincoat as I hit the street. Daydreams and inspirations as befitting a flaneur. Within the DNA of the piece are elements of Grant Green and Wes Montgomery combined within a generation also equally exposed to rock, blues and modernist composers such as Babbitt, Berio and Schoenberg.
John’s tone is a clean sound akin to the cadence of those from vintage Fender Guitars. Throughout the album he eschews use of effects to alter or gild his instruments voice. The interplay among the musicians is immediately apparent and made more impressive by the fact that the entire album was recorded live in the studio in one session, without overdubbing. All the playing is top notch yet there is never the distraction of overly fussy to mire things down.
“Hold On Sheldon” is a sort of samba as if done by James Brown late at night when a good portion of the band has gone home. The varying components within the piece show what big ears the trio has. The bright punch of John’s guitar declaiming single note runs, a Morse code to get funky morphs into bent string chiming; the mission bell in the land of the blues calling people in for catharsis or to dance. John Hanes drums do not merely keep time nor add density to the piece but provide a sort of forward thrust feeling. Especially starting at the midway point to the song. He incorporates intricate polyrhythms and touches of louder rock leaning heaviness, underscoring that is not merely a lead voice being backed by two others.
“Egyptians” starts off with the guitar peppering Dan Seaman’s rich bass pattern. The initial tempo suggests an air of slinky contemplation. A descending guitar pattern followed by a brief series of volcanic rumblings and the tempo and general feel of the song drastically changes. The funk of a Saturday night circa the late seventies. The trio lock into a deep groove. If we are not fighting or crying then we should be dancing said a neo-Greek chorus from atop their barstools. The trio show an inherent taste regardless of the tempo or tempo changes in a song. Absent is any kind of stylistic Achilles’ heel in regards to performance ability.
The entire CD finds great interplay among the musicians. With the manner in which the CD was recorded, it has a great organic, warm sound. Who these musicians are may change down the line with time or travel. This CD offers a compelling snapshot of their here and now, well worthwhile.
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The cat knew that she was not supposed to be on the jacket despite the fact that I had earlier lazily let it fall to the floor. Staying low to the ground, she approached it from across the room with the slow deliberate steps of an actor in a Noh play.
The end of the day found the swallows returning the night, their spread wings carrying the blue black back up into the sky. In this season, so swift was their ascent that the motion, seen peripherally did not take attention away from the garment.
Finally she pounces on it, looking up at me to gauge my mood. I can’t be bothered to reprimand and after a moment of silence she comfortably settles down amongst the folds. If only I could make everyone, someone, as happy so easily.
I pad into my office. The top of the lowest of my bookcases where I keep my blank notepads also has a vase. I keep flowers as often as I can remember but not for the obvious reasons. Always a cut flower has already received its death sentence. I like this subtle reminder of the terminal futility of beauty. I used to keep the vase closer to my desk but depending upon the type of flower, the petals would fall onto my workspace mixing with the pencil shaving butterflies.
An important component of all great works of art regardless of medium is its ability to seemingly speak to each person individually, calling for it to be incorporated into our lives and selves in some manner of totem. For every person it will vary, which is fine so long as there is not too great a deviation from the artist’s initial intent.
Outside, the huffing of trucks dropping off palettes of things for the restaurants, the murmur of a crowd whose bodies are in constant motion and the intermittent testimony of impatient car horns. The dichotomy of civilization, all the places of man, and every city, have the same noises yet each place has its own subtle variations which flavor it. It is the same with birthdays and funerals. I grab a book and record off of the shelves.
Poetry and jazz share certain key qualities with cities. Within works of both are specific intents, executed in such a way as to leave room for the audience to fill in the blanks as is meaningful to themselves. The effect is akin to hearing a story and without changing the narrative structure, each of us imaging in our own way what the characters look like.
All poetry is poetry, yet there exists within this blanket term a myriad of genres and sub genres. The same can be said of jazz. Each has its cannon which is revered and passed down from generation to generation even while the art form(s) remain in flux and ever evolving.
The current album by Wayne Horvitz underscores how well the two art forms mesh. Some Places Are Forever Afternoon is paying tribute to American poet Richard Hugo (1923-1982).
Richard Hugo is a perfect fit for Wayne’s genre defying music as neither can be pegged down to a specific time or rigidly within any one specific school. Richard’s writing was rhythmically complex and forward thinking, yet was sometimes framed within the older structure of an epistolary format of a bygone era. Wry humor, heartbreak, nature and bars coexist within Richard’s work providing the perfect mercurial templates off of which Wayne works from.
The music while not programmatic is inspired by the poetry with which it directly emotionally resonates. One need not be familiar with the writing to enjoy the music but when paired there is no feeling of the sonics being a lesser artistic sibling, so organically do they enmesh themselves.
The ensemble is made up of long time collaborators from two of Wayne’s bands; Sweeter Than the Day and the Gravitas Quartet. The instruments which comprise the band are far from that of the usual jazz ensemble which subtly underscores the lack of sonic borders.
The track listing gives the name of each song and also the poem that inspired it. Also reproduced are the poems along with some photos which are visual works of poetry unto themselves. The photos show, if not exact locations of Hugo’s life and work, then places cut of the same cloth.
“Money or a story” exists within a quick groove which is not overly frantic, its steady engulfing pace, like a poetic metre. Each of the instruments offers up their voice in long lines, the similarity of declamation creating a density usually achieved by complexity of changing tempos but here made more by a layering. The effect achieved is even stronger for its departure from the normal technique.
Starting softly, “Those who remain are the worst” unfolds into a near waltz like feel with an organic casualness. The richness of the cello at the piece’s introduction is counter balanced first by the plink-tink transition of the piano and then the coronet and guitar. So different but go together well are the guitar and horn; that they conjure up the feeling of a sort of musical signpost within the piece’s landscape along with the people who stand by them waiting, in conversation. The work ends with the woody murmuring of bassoon, the secrets which we softly tell ourselves and the odd things that remind us of them.
Slowly revealing itself, “You drink until you are mayor” is one of my favorite pieces on the album. It is dark but not in the artificial milieu of theater. The darkness is more akin to the repercussion of deep thoughts as occurring when one is honest with themselves late at night or early in the morning. A pulsing drone of piano, bass and guitar with near subliminal discordance in the background shows that there is some Walter Piston and Ned Rorem mixed into the artistic DNA of the piece. It is all legato beauty, illuminated darkness as reflected in the curved brass railing of the bar. As the piece nears its end, the instruments stagger their statements. The silence between adding to the feel and being of equal importance before elliptically the work ends as it had begun.
Poetry and jazz each in their own way offer a myriad of emotional, spiritual and intellectual possibilities. This album shows how well these two universal art forms can go together. It is the power of the commonalties which we all make our own yet allow us to still sympathetically shake our heads when hearing of someone else with the blues or stretching their arms skyward in ecstatic joy.
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Exciting new tour dates from pianist Michael Jefrey Stevens. Be sure to catch him where you can.
She told me to always shake everything out, towels, clothes and shoes, before using them as the spiders made temporary homes in the creases of things at night attracted by the warmth. I did not know how much veracity there was in this but the other morning while shaving I had seen a spider crawl out of the skirt that she had left on the bathroom floor.
Her sister was sick and she had to go and help her out. Occasionally it is good to sweetly suffer the blues induced by finding oneself alone. The rawness makes all sensations both good and bad more acute and the inherent poetics of everything rise to the fore.
Late at night, two empty bottles clang. It is the pantomime of an amour as the bag that they are in comes to rest on some side street next to a dumpster. Footfalls like applause, the last man left in the theater who refuses to leave until he is sure that he has seen everything.
I wondered if thoughts could have a sound. And if they did, would they vary from person to person? To be even more specific, did the type of thought dictate its sound? For the erotic, a breeze like sigh, work, the metallic clang of a steam driven piston.
While just a cerebral meandering to while away what hours remained until dawn, it did present the concept of the personal/universal aspects of a thing. This concept could easily be applied to art. The best art in any medium shares this property. It is embraced and treasured by many over the course of generations yet for each person, it has somewhat of an individualized meaning which resonates in a personal way.
Miles Davis (May 26, 1926 – September 28, 1991) is one artist whose oeuvre has touched many people deeply and personally. His many fans can all agree on his greatness yet the reason why varies for each person. Blues for Miles by pianist/arranger Greg Murphy offers up evidence of this personal/universal effect.
The album is no mere stylistic homage but a way in which to show some of what Miles meant to him not via the work’s structure but rather in mood and spirit. The album’s program is a mix of standards and originals which along with the band’s interplay keeps things interesting.
“My Shinning Hour” starts the album off. This standard from the pen of perennial Great American Songbook scribes Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer was originally for the film “The Sky’s the Limit” (1943) but is probably best known to jazz fans through the John Coltrane cover. John Coltrane’s version from the album Coltrane Jazz (Atlantic Records 1961) marked the first appearance on record of his classic quartet.
Greg eschews any comparison by injecting heavy Bossa Nova inflections. With a fat mid-range tone the trumpet maintains the familiar melody while all around him dances percussion and drum flourishes. The perfect foil which meshes with the horn while not becoming merely a twin is the low end bass groove. The piano breaks are lyrical and like the rest of the song, fun. Punctuated with whistle and percussion breaks one finds themselves suddenly thinking of carnival and the softly murmured innuendos of the sun.
“Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” is taken as a solo piece. It shows the contemplative aspect of Greg’s playing. Written by E.Y Harburg and Jay Gorney (1930) for the musical Americana it was in the vernacular of the depression, portraying the broken possibilities of the once seemingly limitless potential for every American. Despite the Republican right thinking it “Red” propaganda and trying to have it cut from the show it remained and continued on well after the depression in the lexicon of great standards.
Greg is no stranger to this song having previously (2012) recorded it as the theme song for the HBO documentary “Redemption”. We all get down but not every musician can play the blues. Greg displays an authenticity not in any specific blues-based structure but in an organic soulfulness.
There is a power to the performance deriving from simplicity which is not meant in a pejorative way. Any attempt at doing a deconstruction or re-imagining are avoided in favor of a straight reading which allows the song’s inherent power and Greg’s voice to come through unadorned and without any distraction. Tinged with melancholy but bearable on account of its beauty, it is a rainy day with all the leaves of the trees dripping silvered jewels.
“Hat Trick” is another original. It is free jazz not in the genre sense but in the band allowing different components from several genres to meld without concern of adhering to any specific formula. The band on this album is comprised of musicians with whom Greg has a history, having played together in various incarnations. This song has a slow burn, offering up permanent evidence of how much fun the ensemble would be in a live situation.
The start of the song finds the bass releasing deep drone like pulses. The brush and cymbal work on the percussion is the whispered encouragement to do something interesting and in nocturnal colors. When the piano initially enters, softly, it sounds almost akin to an older model keyboard so valued by today’s turnbulists. Soon though it is metamorphosis into grander, fractured ivories playing in elliptical patterns which mirror that of the bass, punctuating its own pattern with rapid asides.
The trumpet and tenor saxophone are two long things which entangle even as the stretch out, wisps of smoke, coils of rope or deeply abstracted thoughts. As the piece continues on the front line of horns separate with the trumpet then tenor taking solos which would not sound out of place on the Impulse label of the 1960’s.
A dramatic cohesiveness is created not because all the musicians play in unison but because each of the smaller patterns executed within the piece bolster the others.
This album is no mere tribute nor does it seek to concern itself with offering up the next artistic evolutionary step. Instead it displays what inspirations one generation of artists gleamed from another. An informal meditation on the enjoyment from works that we find ourselves constantly going back to, something which we can all relate to in our own way.
More information on Greg: http://www.jazzintensity.com/
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