Posts Tagged music
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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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.
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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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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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My writing going out in the world, I know it is merely a matter of personal perception but it seems to go further when the notes become separated from one another. Each paragraph takes up residency in a different piece.
The cat laying by the fountain and the sound of her broom on the steps both captured by my pen on the same day and sharing a page in my notebook. Once utilized they live many miles apart as one goes to an essay while the other in a poem.
All the words circle the globe, they create the lines of a special map as groups of words come together to form countries with names like;
“Bar at night…”
“That girl from then…”
“Regret from a lack of tears.”
No nation’s borders have straight lines of demarcation, although some do more so than others owing to the suppleness of certain words and their groupings.
I take long walks and talk to myself about the nature of what goes into any given work. Picasso once told Andre Malraux that he dreamed his “Bull” sculpture, which was the skeletal head of the animal made up of a bicycle seat for skull and handlebars for horns, would one day have a reverse birth. Like watching a film run backwards, the parts would subtly vibrate, then shake and then detach from one another. Jumping out the window each would separately place themselves back on the frame of some bicycle, where their former prestige unnoticed, they would go back to carrying out their original functionality.
I imagined the similar magical motion behind the absorption of my notes into various pieces. The sea change that the words underwent from their birth in a reporter pad into something less functional but perhaps grander in some people’s eyes.
With the vision of the Toro behind me, my inner dialogue on this day was the nature of influence and components which make up any work of art.
It has been written that the twin wellsprings of all modern (Western) classical music flows from Igor Stravinsky (1882 –1971) and Arnold Schoenberg (1874 –1951). With the passage of time, these two influences have not waned but in some cases have occurred via a ripple effect, the influenced composers in turn influencing the following generations.
Even for these two composers, neither of them started off fully realized as the artists whom countless people would treasure. And once their artistic identities were fully gestated, there was still a near constant evolution occurring. The forms of inspiration offered up by these two were the foundation to build off of or reject, spurring on further explorations. Their different theories and techniques taken apart, cannibalized to reappear in new forms, like The Bull.
Modern jazz has had many similarities with modern classical music. In both cases diverse components from traditional folk/ethno-world and previously established cannon have been utilized and mixed to varying degrees with the aural vernacular of the day along with each composers own voice. Creating something new, yet linked to what came both before and after.
Both jazz and modern classical have had instances of cross pollination within their genres and with each other. As both genres were ever evolving, they have conveyed an aural shorthand for capturing the zeitgeist of progress.
Although non-populist music stateside is largely marginalized in regards to where the casual listener can discover (or see live) works which do not strictly adhere to a genre, in some ways it is a golden age for creating uneasy to define works. Now artists need not restrict themselves from where they cull influences and inspiration. Cologne musician/composer Jurgen Friedrich’s new release Monosuite (For String Orchestra and improvisers) is more a classical piece with improvised solos than a jazz album. Yet in this age we need not worry about coming up with a too exacting classification.
Jurgen draws from not only a myriad of musical influences and inspirations but painters and nature as well. All perfectly apropos given the visual feel to the piece.
The structure of the work is a suite which is non-programmatic. The orchestra is made up of strings with the improvised solos of bass, alto saxophone, piano and drums. The lack of a brass or woodwind section allows for the episodic nature of the suite to subtly present itself to the listener.
“Waves” begins with a lush swell of strings, sonorous cello and viola above which crystalline waves of violin rise. This is a good example of the subtle colorations of the score. There is a reoccurrence throughout; a sort of ambient vibration(s) as one may experience when looking at the color field paintings of Marc Rothko or during a long good conversation.
“Breaks” is mainly the fluttering breath of flute punctuated by the occasional emergence of the orchestra. It is meditative beauty, the soft wind which hits the cheeks as one catches themselves standing in contemplation of an abstract.
“Fiddlesticks” has a great drum pattern accompanied by strings which conjure up a North African feel. These colorations strive for the rigid confines of authenticity to the place from where they came but as an added influence to be incorporated into the esprit de corps. The melody takes on a sort of rolling motion, rolling the way the dunes do across a dessert and over which can faintly be heard the glissando of piano and above that, horn.
“Blossom” starts with strings building into a wave of tension. The shrill violins are a rope or wire about to break, the crooked looping cello the voice warning that they are about to do so. The string is broken and there is a fall through the roof into a lopsided cabaret where the piano attempts to intermittently gallop away when the discordant voice of the horn is distracted by the ratchet like percussion. The bass becomes both the front door opening and closing and the footsteps of the patrons many of whom wear ill-fitting hats. The flute is a type of nocturnal peace as can be achieved in such places at a late hour, not necessarily real but believed. This section marks the introduction of discordant elements. I would not say they are necessary but their presence with their piquant cacophony serves to underscore the lushness of the more out right beautiful sections.
“Low Tide” is my favorite section. It has an elliptical flute breathing over the tinkling of a piano. It is a predawn Gotham, someone practicing in their fourth floor walkup or softly talking to themselves via the ivories. There are swells of strings and the rumble of bass, so much concrete resettling in its predawn coolness. The percussion is the rattle of found objects, umbrella skeletons with their spindly metal bones now bereft of any fabric, empty cans which lost the fight and with their middle dented in now have a V for the victory of their opponent. All tripping up or being kicked away by a lone flaneur. Walking alone at night, gently enfolded in the wings of the city, I want to wear a suit the color of yesterday but will settle for a peace nestled in discordance.
The suite ends with “Weave” which is not a summing up but more the mirror twin of the first section. Where our entry into the suite was lush, this last section is densely beautiful and of a darker hue. There is short bursts of strings, their humming a code converging with flinty notes of piano. Cello conjuring up the ghost of Boccherini’s nights mark a change in the sections cadence. Percussion and piano mirror the pattern of the strings before flute, piano and bass delicately add solos which stay inside the melody.
In his composition Jurgen never falls back on repetition to move onto the next idea or to merely fill space. All the soloists make statements in the end, the effect is of individuals running into a crowd, joining it and then continuing on at the same brisk pace from within it. The close of the suite, the strings drop away and it is all soft murmurings and plinkings, the symmetry of beauty.
More information on Jurgen
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Lying on my back, I raise my left arm parallel to the edge of the bed. The square of sunlight which comes in the late afternoon…
In October it is golden with an almost greenish tinge to it. Always, it is quickly retreating after only offering a stage for my shadow puppets for a mere twenty minutes before the elongated square then sinks back into the rest of the wall.
Dawn too may have offered a brief theater but I was rarely awake to observe if it was so.
I look best in bar-light and so tried to bathe myself in it as often as possible. This trick of light also encompassed the perception of time. Regardless of how long I held myself absent, none of the stool vultures noticed. Conversations and arguments could easily be picked up again as if they had just been started the previous night.
I spend a lot of time in my head giving my life currency via obeying Socrates’s old adage. Sandra noticed my lack of presence as I became wrapped up in a project. She insisted I go out with her, adding the prerequisite that it be some place free of other distractions or crowds in which I could camouflage myself.
A home cooked meal, the preparation for which painted my shirt that I changed right before her arrival. Offered up, a heavy pasta meal whose execution and richness induced a near sensual stupor. We talked, the music played and as I remained an active participant it all remained dreamily peaceful.
However, as good as the evening was she knew that there was every reason to believe that tomorrow would find me once again solitarily soaring through the air on notepad wings at the expense of all else not birthed from the barrel of my Waterman. She wanted to squeeze as much of my attention out of the night as possible.
We went for a walk. I choose an area which I did not usually find myself in as to avoid the transmutation of this evening into just another night. There was a diner, whether mere ritual or the heaviness of the meal, I desired a coffee even though most likely it would not be any good. Sandra was fine, so I go it to go.
A small park. We sit in the empty bandstand. I drink smoldering coffee from a cardboard cup while Sandra smoked one of her endless, last cigarettes.
The bandstand sits in meditation on the ghosts of Duke, Basie, Kenton and a then young modern America. As for myself, I think of Nathan. He had driven a taxi for thirty years, big band music providing the soundtrack. Not necessarily wisdom but the desire for a minor immortality is the catalyst of one generation telling the next their stories. A lot of Nathan’s anecdotes centered on the time of his youth. Whether this was because he thought I would relate better or because it was the more interesting time in his life, I never knew.
There was his pal who had lost an arm in the war but afterwards continued to drive his taxi that was affectionately known as “The one arm bandit”, countless get rich quick schemes involving silver mines and commercial tuna boats that had nearly paid off and a general excitement which kept his taxi circling the city well after hope of obtaining fares was gone as he was afraid that he would miss something where he to merely go home and go to bed.
The stories I never tired off. The music he tried to share did not do much for me; I was pure into the then new to me, bop and would not appreciate it for many years and by then he would be long gone.
I initially when I finally got into Duke, it was his later recordings on Columbia which were closer for my ears to the modern jazz I had been cutting my teeth on. From this I traveled backwards in his catalog and then outwards, exploring and embracing his peers.
I grew big ears, listening to music from every era and genre, the who and what depending upon my mood. I gained an affection and knowledge of big band.
From the early 1950’s on, while no longer the soundtrack for youth, the big band genre continued past its cultural reign. It was not merely nostalgia, a mere few remaining bands playing the favorites at festivals, the genre continued to evolve well past the inception of bop, albeit it outside of mainstream attention.
Overall, modern jazz, while supplanting big band from its previously held cultural position did make the incorporation of largely previously unutilized components such as Western classical and world music easier to incorporate.
People like Mel Lewis/Thad Jones Orchestra, Gil Evans, Charles Mingus (not big band per see but amazing large ensemble writing with some Duke in his DNA) and Bob Brookmeyer continued evolving the genre well past what had been its era utilizing palettes which were no longer limited in the way their artistic predecessors had been due to commercial or other consideration.
For big band and large ensemble music it would seem that now would be a golden age to be a musician/composer as there are not limitations to where one can draw influence from nor what can be incorporated into a work. However there is neither the widespread innovation nor evolution as one would expect from such freedom.
Once in a while there are little flashes of something, the power of it being real as it comes neither from gimmick or novelty.
Jon Armstrong’s new jazz orchestra album Farewell offers something new but clearly built off of what had come before him.
The ensemble is made up of woodwinds, trumpets low brass and percussionists. The first track “Ardnave”, begins with a foundation of percussion and trumpets playing in unison a theme which has an Iberian peninsula feel to it without it ever lapsing into ethno caricature.
After a solo trumpet statement there comes a percussion break. This section really puts forth the warmth of the album’s sonics. The album’s sound is very good with an ambient warmth which I will take any day over a cold digital, pristine perfection. Recorded in a school in North Hollywood (California) the artist and engineer clearly understood how to utilize the room. After the percussion break comes a section with clarinet. It has a mild klezmer feel to it. The contrast between clarinet and the swell of brass is enjoyable. The clarinet’s voice, a rich woody shade as found in the forest, the trees’ canopy broken here and there by the shafts of sunlight brass.
With a lot of larger contemporary ensembles, regardless of how good the players are and how forward thinking the charts, there is always that effect of garnering a suspicion that the band sounds better live. The overall warmth of this recording keeps that feeling at bay throughout the length of the entire album.
“Fool of Me” starts with a legato, split reed murmuring and is a perfect example of the intimacy of Farewell’s cadence. The lone horn is joined by other voices in a plaintive lament. The low brass roils in contrast to the bass and saxophone which remain delicately buoyant in a duet. Slowly a near vocalese trumpet speaks its piece as the rest of the ensemble add an underlying richness. I enjoy the density of this composition which is kept from feeling overly heavy by achieving its mass through the emerging and reduction of various instruments in smaller groups within the group.
“Dream Has No Friend” begins with horns in unison laying out slowly descending lines. After a low end march is introduced there are some subtle tempo shifts accompanied by varied orchestral colorations. Rising out of the aural miasma, the trombone lays out long lines upon which the piano and clarinet intermittently appear all voices unified by a slight waltz like rhythm.
The clarinet has chime like echoes accompanying it upon its initial introduction which makes for a unique and compelling sonic contrast. Towards the end of the piece the rest of the ensemble comes in, an impasto effect. The work ends with the deep brass reduced down and once again in a descending pattern.
Jon’s work does not strictly adhere to genre formula(s) and the entire album is all the more better for it. It stands up to repeated listenings. It has substance but is never so forward thinking as to turn off the more casual listener. The CD comes in gatefold packing with a liner note booklet.
For more information on Jon
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