Posts Tagged performance
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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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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Another artists’ artist in a series of rare & special events.
Charles is a musician’s musician who should be better known. This great live performance serves as the perfect introduction.
- Si Perkoff, piano.
- Sam Bevan, bass.
- Tony Johnson, drums.
- Noel Jewkes, saxophone.
- Max Perkoff, trombone.
Not to be missed!
I am back stateside with new articles to come soon. In the meantime, check out this new project from Dee Settlemeir (of the Midnight Serenaders) and friends…
The record playing era is, aside from a sub culture of aficionados, largely over. The mainstream & casual listener now mostly purchases their music via digital downloads. This trend is also making extinct two interconnected aspects of what often made a great record even better, the art of the album cover and that of the liner notes. Of course there is still some image, usually in thumbnail, of the album cover when purchasing a download but it is not the same as having one of those old Blue Note Francis Wolf cardboard sleeves in hand. There was that tactile pleasure to it, a similar phenomenon as with the actual browsing without purpose in a record shop, which is how I have made some of my favorite artist discoveries. One can buy some obscure albums digitally but you must know in advance what you are looking for. There is none of that magic of happenstance in coming upon a previously unknown gem. As for liner notes…some labels will digitally include them but it seems only the truly geeky, such as myself will bother with the extra mouse clicks to read them and getting someone to write something who is not in the band is becoming the rare exception to the rule.
Ironically when CDs first came out I had not been happy about the shrunk down image done to fit the packaging. I receive in the mail rather a lot of CDs each week which I still prefer over digital downloads even with their smaller than record covers. It seems like a lot of new acts, or people for whom making art is only one part of their lives, eschew the digital download album opting for the older CD format. It could be too that they do both and send critics and columnists the CDs as to avoid making us take up valuable space on our computer’s hard drive where the words should go.
My junk scientific method of taking CDs from my slush pile varies. I know that at least to the artist, every one of them is important. Usually if there is a form letter or no note specifically addressed to me I do not bother. And just as a mall glamour shots looking cover can instantly turn me off from its cheese factor, once in a while a cover can compel me to pick up the CD and give a listen.
Despite decades of a steady stream of technical innovations, space still smells like dirty pennies and seared steak *. The cold war was largely the progenitor behind the space race, the propaganda value of “winning” being worth more for a theological way of life than, with the technologies then available, any real practical applications of a space station or moon base. The former Soviet Union launched monkeys and dogs into out of space, probably more than will ever be officially owned up to, not that they were by any means alone In this practice.
The eponymous album cover by Karl 2000 has the striking color scheme of red and gold. The aesthetics are reminiscent of old soviet propaganda posters if they had been done by one of today’s street artists, featuring a monkey wearing a soviet starred beret. Before even listening to the CD, I decided that this Soviet simian had somehow made his way back from space. This was Karl, cosmonaut hero. On the strength of the cover alone I grabbed this album from the pile with no idea what to expect.
The band is a New York based trio comprised of saxophone, bass and drums. The band goes for emotion over technique. That is not to say that they are not good, they are. One would have to be to have such tight but loose interplay as this trio. Overall they awe and please with how they play, not what. There is a punk(y) energy to them but not in a self-conscious hipster way of a jazz trio covering Nirvana or Radiohead. There is energy to the trio but they let it burst forth in just the right discordant amount which keeps the listener from becoming desensitized to it.
Drawing inspiration from a Russian folk melody, “Meadowlands” starts off with a sort of martial march bass and drum beat; comrades going out for morning maneuvers over which the bleary eyed saxophone staggers into formation line after a night of leave. The cadence of the song has a sort of late night downtown sound meets klezmer feel to it. The song is quick but how much must one say if they really mean it?
“A Cliff on the Volga” is also inspired by a Russian folk melody. It starts with an exclamation by Daniel Rovin’s saxophone, the dramatic declamation as can sometimes be heard in processional music (such as the Spanish Saeta). The bass soon takes over in a deep rich solo statement until the saxophone comes back, softer this time. It would be a misnomer to call this a ballad but it is slower and softer, yet they manage to keep their edge. Throughout this album one is reminded how gentile jazz has become. In all its myriad forms it is still enjoyable but the anything can happen, in the moment, component has been sort of pushed into the background. Of course I speak in broad generalities but people going to supper clubs drinking their top shelf cocktails as a band play really do not want to witness an artist experimenting or stretching out. They are willing to accept just the right amount of extra choruses in a song because it is live but the pieces should be a close approximation to what they are used to. The turn off to current jazz audiences with the in the moment aspect is that it could make for a bad show, an off night and the bottom line must win out. This trio brings back the discordance and chance elements that can make for memorable shows. The album has a live feel; live in the way jazz should be by a band making their bones.
The album is made up of originals and covers. There is the seemingly odd choice of covering The Partridge Family “I Think I Love You”. Here it is done with no irony but a straight read in the bands voice sans gimmick. Toward the end the horn gives a higher register almost vocalese of the song’s melody as drums and bass trade off propulsive bursts. Dave Miller’s drumming shows a hard bop muscle while also creating complex polyrhythms which are in line with some of the free/progressive elements hardwired into the bands DNA. In performance the band does allow space which they utilize for tension and coloration within their interplay. The sound of the album is pristine but with an ambient warmth so this works to great effect.
“Chocolate Wonderfall” starts off a frenzied piece serving up slabs of speaking in tongues funk. A club in Brighton Beach, it is the dance floor and stage slick with perspiration and whatever has dripped down the sides of everyone’s glasses. The saxophone squawks, a call to revelry as the drums and bass boil over.
“Derrrrr” Has a strolling bass. Austin White has a great tone light but not delicate. There is brightness along with a bit of bar surface dark woodiness. There is no flagging of intensity which can occur by musically trying to be all things to all people. The band is not repetitious in execution. Their influences and likes are diverse but they have a definite sonic identity and stick with it. There are Russian elements to some of their melodies but they are not seeking to fuse ethno-world music to jazz. It is one of many things they like, it is a part of them and it is authentic in that way without seeking out or the proclaiming of a formalized structure.
The album closes with “We’ll Meet Again” taken at a brisk pace. It has a sort of vintage sound to it with the percussion being produced by toy drums. It is the bitter sweetness of saying goodbye to a friend who then does something silly yet endearing as you turn around for one last look. The whole album is free of gimmick and engaging. There is no dichotomy between the organically occurring energy of the band and the studio. One could almost imagine friends and well-wishers in the booth, drinks in hand watching and cheering them on. I look forward to hearing more from them.
The tiles were black and white making the floor look like a chess board. I should have gone out but instead spent the day sitting on the couch contemplating the game. Finally I was shamed by the sounds down below of people coming and going swimming in the stream of an urban tide. I would run out at least for a drink.
It was not too busy and I managed to get the stool right next to my favorite one. I made some small talk but mostly listened as I wished they would either turn the music up or off. Looking out the window a monkey wearing an ushanka walks by a paper bag from which a bottle protrudes tucked under his arm. The monkey’s paws are gimp from the cold but they hang loose ready for action all the same. He no longer dreams of the glory days but will now settle for an afternoon of shadows and fur.* A recent scientific journal article interviewed astronauts from several different eras who all commented on the fact that space had a distinctive scent. I am guessing at its bouquet.
Find more info on Karl 2000 at: http://www.karl2000.com
Full disclosure: I did write the liner notes for this double set but I had been a great admirer of Alexander’s work well before my humble contribution. This double set is a return to headphone music. It is unabashedly challenging, the pay off coming in the form of an aural journey which one can take repeatedly each time finding something new. Your stereo serving as passport control, the journey starts with the push of a button.