Posts Tagged piano
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
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/
Not for use without permission. firstname.lastname@example.org
Coming out of the shower a bunch of components, nothing exotic but combined in a ratio that would be impossible to intentionally replicate, created an ambient perfume. It called forth not specific memories but more an emotional abstract which was familiar. The futility of memories, smoke that briefly takes on the shape of something else, blowing back apart as one tries to hold it in their hands. This is yesterday’s tomorrows, now already spent up.
The city of light, she was everything to me and too soon I would once again be temporarily leaving her. Perhaps that was one of the reasons for my unending desire to always return; I never got to gorge myself to the extent that I thought that I was capable.
Once I was down to a day or two before leaving I could not sit still as my body was caught up in contrary motions, not wanting to leave but also with an encroaching time of departure looming, wishing I could just get it over with. I had been invited over to Margeaux’s for a last dinner. Under the best conditions I was a finicky eater with home cooked meals made by others and that was not taking into account my current nerves. I actually liked cooking as I found it meditative but I did not want to offer up that idea as I was trying to use up what was left in the refrigerator and a dinner guest would mean more food shopping. The logistics of the whole thing was beginning to feel an inconvenience to me, especially as when not taking my final turn as a flâneur, all I wanted to do was sit around in my bathrobe eating eggs and listening to some Jelly Roll Morton while devouring every inch of my arrondissement with my eyes as to have total recall of even the smallest brick when away from it all. I tried to beg off, offering up vague promises of a drink somewhere.
Knowing the way I operated she insisted that we meet for dinner as otherwise she could miss me until my eventual return or find me surrounded by too many other well-wishers at one of my favorite watering holes. What could I say?
She liked to wear the little hat that she had bought in Italy with the dark green veil as she felt this gave her the gift of prophecy. Too late to warn Icarus to change his flight she headed to Saint Michelle, bringing her smaller pocketbook since she need only carry her keys and some money for drinks.
I had grumbled to myself all day about our dinner date but on the way there, the lights spilling out into the streets, the plaques which I now knew so well, each denoting which artist had lived in a building, worked to remind me of how wonderful even the commonplace in this city is. Aside from the obvious of one last long walk all around the neighborhoods that go from mine down to the Seine I now wanted an act of communion and valentine with the city. The only solution was to order everything on the menu and hope that she saw the sensuality of it. We talked and ate, one act spurring the other on. I helped her on with her jacket, she turned around and held me in an embrace as we kissed goodbye. There was now an undertone of the gastronomic in her perfume. Of course we would write or at the very least mean to.
I take my walk. I pass a small bar, it is crowded but I feel compelled to go in. Once inside there is just enough room to blink. At the far end of the room is a kid standing on a spot of floor playing an alto saxophone. He is accompanied by an upright bassists who must dip his instrument like a tango partner anytime someone needing to use the restroom or the waitress goes by.
They are young but play with feeling and a clear understanding of the bop genre. All the people crowded into the place generate a heat yet there is none of that rude aggression as can be found in such situations elsewhere. The front of the bar has two sort of bay window alcoves that normally house small café tables which had earlier been moved to the side of the bar to serve as a staging area for the dirty glasses accumulating. These empty alcoves allowed more people to come in and stand in the tables spot. I stay for a few songs, Bud Powell and Bird. I could not have left even if I had wanted to as there was a score of people now behind be. All the heat and bodies, the windows begin to bulge outwards a ship catching the wind and about to set sail. More people come in; one girl by the door thinks she sees some friends ahead and to the left of me. As the people try to part to make way for her I swim towards the door before the small tributary closes.
The cool air revives me. Tendrils of music make their way out onto the street, lingering over the crowd smoking by the door waiting their chance to squeeze in. I begin one of my last walks back, taking the long way that brings me by one of the edges of the Luxembourg Gardens. I know I will not be around for it but I stop to look at the concert schedule for Le Petite Journal anyways. It is mostly Dixieland bordering on hot, jazz.
The small program taped to the door gets me to thinking. From what F. Scott Fitzgerald tapped his toes to, all the way into the late 70’s fusion which some wish had never happened, jazz in all its incarnations is alive and well in Paris. A few blocks away were the kids listening to bop who tomorrow may be here listening to some Bechet or over in Montmartre to dance music under the flashing neon in a club. Of course distinctions are made between the myriad of genres but the fans here seem to have more open ears, not limiting their listening habits to any one specific style.
The musical choices available and the dichotomy of people’s listening habits here get me to thinking. When writing about jazz, just as a point of reference labels must be attached to a work/musician. As practical as this practice is, there is a certain level of stagnation about it as once something is labeled, the verbiage creates a specific set of expectations and artistic limitations.
Musically there are some interesting things going on stateside which one could call underground, not necessarily because of musical obscurity but from lack of interest or promotion by major labels and more importantly, the availability (exposure) to the more casual listeners who do not often seek out what is not right in front of them.
The term mainstream now carries a pejorative connotation as it conjures up all things plebian, fare for the lowest common denominator not in the know. Founded in 1969 by Manfred Eicher, the label ECM has always had a roster of artists whose work not only straddles genre boundaries but often ignores them. ECM is mainstream not for lacking substance in what they offer but in that works on the label are readily available almost anywhere. The music and the distinguished cover art often receive awards worldwide. Talent aside, part of the labels success is in the diversity of work offered up which renders irrelevant the question and the importance of asking “is it jazz”. Much of what is on the label could comfortably be considered world or modern classical.
Extended Circle is the new offering from the Tord Gustavsen Quartet. Often if an album is not comprised of standards or covers, I like to listen to it the first time without having read the liner notes. A measure of artistic success is if one listens to a work and the emotions and inner visions experienced while listening match up to the artist’s intent. Extended Circle is a programmatic work which incorporates aspects of Scandinavian folk art, gospel and choral works. Immediately even when the source material of folk songs such as the traditional Norwegian song “Eg Veit I Himmerik Ei Borg” is transmuted into Tord’s own vernacular the overall sense of emotional unity for the album comes clearly through.
“Right There” is a personal favorite. Stripped of any mysticism, déjà vu is said to be the recognition of an emotional response one has had before, usually triggered on subconscious level by stimulus of a similar nature to the original thought or reaction. There is something vaguely familiar about the chord progression and the lyrical way in which the music quietly undulates. This could be some of the components of source material which Tord drew from, many choral and spiritual pieces sharing at least some sonic commonalities. There is a sense of tension achieved in how the music builds organically and slowly akin to the sun starting a new day. There is a lyricism prevalent throughout the entire album and of which this song perhaps is the most indicative of.
The piece begins with the piano gently stating the theme but not so delicate as to make it ever lapse into muted abstractions. It is bolstered by the pulse of brushed drums which serve to underscore the melody. The introduction of the double bass which plays the theme but not the exact melody in sync with the piano is akin to a dialogue between the two. Not so much as duet but as two people talking about the same thing as they comment on different aspects of it. The song ends on an ethereal note with the fading out of the final ringing notes of the piano.
The album is all original songs predominantly written by Tord with the exceptions being “Entrance” and its variation which was a collective effort, “Bass Transition” by bassist Mats Eilersten and the previously mentioned “Eg Veit..” which is a traditional song , here arranged by Tords. As always with any ECM release, the sound is pristine.
“Silent Space” with its soft (solo) tinkling piano has a contemplative spirituality. With its circular pattern, it feels a reflection about what one may occasionally muse upon, the soul and that which feeds and inspires it, which are forever locked into a similar circular pattern of give and take. This piece really shows off the richness of the production. The fullness of sound achieved by the lone piano is timeless not in regards to the era it belongs to but in the space it occupies from a clock’s point of view.
“The Prodigal Song” has a similar cadence to the first piece, both nicely bookending the album to further an overall suite like feel to the songs. There is an encompassing spiritual aspect to this album whose power is non dogmatic, the importance being not on a specific place or recitation of words but one of contemplation. Spirituality, different for us all but arising from the commonalty within each of us, to let our thoughts wander to the infinite.
Musically, there is no longer any wars, one need not take sides, bop versus the moldy figs or the free jazz(ers). No longer do any musical adherents of a specific genre care if one strays in their listening habits. This combined with the far easier availability of diverse and obscure works via the internet should free everybody up to explore. Load up your MP3 player or tablet with unknown works and become sonic Magellan.
The morning of my departure, instead of the gentle singing of the bird in my window box which I had grown accustomed to and which along with the sound of the bakeries grates sliding up served to herald the start of a new day, there was a crow perched atop the utmost corner of a building screaming at the dawn. A pagan ritual for leaving to replace that of the daily start.
More information on Tord: http://www.tordg.no/trio/
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I recently attended a concert which offered up a bill comprised of multi-generational musicians. With the older guys, were one to not watch them play but listen only, there would be no sense of having lost a step; no reduction in power or chops. The night had been dedicated to the recently departed Mulgrew Miller, a joyous sendoff yet a reminder too that the clock never stops ticking down.
Now added to the sad parade of names, Sathima Bea Benjamin and Marian McPartland. While I currently have a very full up schedule, I could not let these two passings go unremarked upon as I greatly admired both women and our paths ever so briefly intersected. This is by no means meant to be any kind of definitive, scholarly obituary but more a personal memento mori .
I had the pleasure of interviewing both women back when I used to bleed ink for All About Jazz. With Marian, I scored the interview basically as luck of the draw; I was up next in the bullpen to conduct an interview.
Her importance of place in modern jazz can never be overstated. Besides her own performances and recordings, her Jazz piano show did not so much humanize a diverse array of greats as add further, deeper layers to already compelling artists. I did thorough research so that I could ask the questions that I knew were expected of me but also more obscure ones as to try to do a definitive interview that covered her long career.
I was given an East Coast number to call and a time. I called at the appointed time, on the dot but no one picked up. Being her home phone number an answering machine came on. I did not feel it right to leave a message, I may have been wrong, and so hung up. A minute later my phone rang, that familiar voice sounding a little annoyed asked me;
“Did you just call me and hang up?”
I explained who I was and why I had called; asking if now was a good time to do the interview to which she said yes. A few questions in and she paused for a moment, asking me;
“But why had you hung up without leaving a message?”
As we continued on she realized I was not merely asking the standard run of the mill questions and warmed up to me. She was surprised that I had found out about her father having offered her one thousand pounds to stay in school at her career’s start. The interview was conversational and rich with jazz history. Two of my favorite moments:
Prompted by my questions, she went into great detail about the day of Art Kane’s photograph “A Great Day in Harlem” (1958). Among other thing Thelonious Monk holding up the taking of the photo as he tried on all combinations of jackets and hats to try to look different;
“[Thelonious] Monk wanted to choose an outfit so that he would look different from everybody else, but he wound up looking just the same as everybody else. He kept trying on different jackets and hats; I forget what he eventually wore.”
I asked her about having toured briefly in the 60’s with Benny Goodman. This was when Rock and Roll had already deposed Modern Jazz as soundtrack for youth, artists and bohemians, let alone the older genre which Benny Goodman had helped create. He did not like her playing and she asked;
“Benny I know you don’t like my playing. Why did you hire me?” He looked at me in sort of astonishment and said, “I’m damned if I know.”
The tour would be stopped with the death of President Kennedy.
She was a great lady and one of whom I was honored to have briefly interacted with.
The Sathima interview I got under different circumstances. I unintentionally became the go to guy for artists who were deeply genre defying; doing interviews with people propagating odd mélanges of the downtown sound or modern improvised classical. The benefit of these assignments was that I was turned onto artists I would otherwise not have discovered. The other type of interviews I was given were artists who had pedigree and an abundance of talent but their stature, to the more casual listener, was not on the same level as Miles or Sonny Rollins. These assignments I relished, as to me regardless of what tier they were placed on by other jazz writers, they were heroes. Again, I did my research finding far less information and what I did find seemed the reiteration of the same basic history from previous articles. At the time I was to do the interview, she was living in New York doing light club gigging and a soft promotion of the reissue of her A Morning In Paris album.
From the very start she was friendly, exuding a warm, earth-mother kind of vibe. She was beyond generous with her time, I had to keep changing tapes in my machine, both of us laughing as I had to tell her;
“Wait, please wait I must change the tape again.”
Eventually I ran out of questions to ask, we talked about the nature of creativity, cooking and Africa. She said that she liked my name and sort of sang-said it several times as she was mulling over the answer to one of my questions. Her life would make an amazing movie with no need of embellishments for the drama. She talked about not being well known in America and the hard logistics of trying to keep a band if not together as a permanent unit then steadily working for live dates, all without a trace of bitterness or regret. It seemed after a while; more that I was talking to a friend than being granted an interview. As we continued to chat I made bold by asking her about the pizzicato violin of Svend Asmussen, from the Paris album. As great of a musician as he was, to me it at times is distracting from the other things going on. She told me a fantastic story “off record” then as we continued to talk, changed her mind and said that I could put it in;
“So while we were doing this “Nightingale In Berkeley Square” he said now you are going to work with a trio. And then I did “Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year” and other things, “Darn That Dream…” And while we were into that the door opened and in walked… Svend Asmussen. And Ellington said “Oh, hey—you are just what we need… I want you to play with her but listen and this is important…Please do not play the melody. She is the melody.” So is that not beautiful? Ellington said “You can play anything else but you don’t play the melody.” So that’s why he played all the pizzicato, which I found sometimes like really annoying me. But what could I do? I wasn’t in control of this. I wasn’t going to tell him.”
She was an amazing woman, whose acquaintance I feel lucky enough to have made. I would like to think that if my interview did not help her in any professional way, it at the very least pleased her.
Farewell to two great artists whose artistic lights will never dim.
August 21, 2013 Midtown
This article is not to be used or reprinted without the expressed permission of Maxwell A. Chandler (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Her skin was the color of milk chocolate with wine poured over it. Always, her mood would dictate how drunk it became. Embarrassment or arousal and there would be a more prominent Beaujolais hue. Even if we had left off after a fight, the first thing offered up to me the next visit was always her lips so that I had long since stopped trying to remember the circumstances of our previous parting.
We kissed, her lips on mine a thing of liquid and possessing a sort of pull. It felt as if it would go on forever, a sinking which suddenly stopped as my feet hit bottom and she sighs.
“Come on through” she yelled from the living room.
The way her words ran together, my understanding of her language, her sentences often sounded like a series of extended purrs, emitting from the back of her throat and kissed on the way out by her lips if they were not busy holding a cigarette.
She sat at the piano and nodded with her chin. I picked up the glass and put my hat down in its place. One of the appeals of my lyrics for her was tied in with ego. When she sang the songs there was never an attempt to change the “she” which everybody knew was her, to a “he” which would have made the dynamics that of her singing about someone else instead of herself via my thoughts on the matter. Older and wiser, I tried not to mix business with pleasure but we did often inspire each other’s best work and I firmly believed good poetry was meant to be heard. So I was back again just long enough for us to drive each other a little crazy while also reminding ourselves that there would always be a next time.
“What do you have for me?”
I reached into my book bag, my fingertips brushing the ever present edition of Paul Valery for luck. I passed the folio over to her. As she got down the chording I looked around the room to see if anything had changed. Her tongue behind her front teeth, she clucked three times, pleased. We agreed to talk in a few days. Even with all that we had accomplished in our respective roles I still always brought the lyrics to her in person, as it was a sign of intimate respect and to do otherwise would encompass a sort of negative symbolism. The money on the other hand was an abstract for the both of us, her agent and Mickey worked those details out so that we could avoid getting our hands dirty. I let myself out humming the melody snatched up from the piano along with my hat.
The next day I had nothing to do but still found myself waking early. As I was giving myself the gift of a good shave the phone rang. She was calling to tell me that she would take all the songs;
“These are some of the best, there is an underlying tartness to them, perhaps from the late summer of our youth almost over…”
I told her that neither of us was that old. She chuckled then got serious again telling me that when we were through, truly and forever through, the words I would write…..
I walked up Port Royal, in an expansive mood I stopped for oysters. While lost in thought I went beyond the half dozen I was going to initially do as a snack. Her words came back to me, she had only been half kidding but the melancholy her words produced hovered in the background adding more enjoyment for their piquant quality. The bitter enhanced the sweet as both were so powerful neither reigned over the other, perhaps the best way to live not a longer but fuller life is to live as if in an opera.
She usually used the same group of musicians although always insisting that they were not her “band”. There was a strategy in this, as they knew how she liked to work, each musician would write their own parts which would be incorporated into the song (music) already written by someone else. Although a standard practice, what it meant was that even when the drummer came up with his own parts he was not given co-writing credits but merely a flat fee for the session. There had been a few times that a new guitarist would show up to a session after the regular cat expressed his displeasure a little too loudly. Encompassing all hired guns, regardless of how often she used them, made it far easier for her to replace someone with no debates necessary. None of this affected me but I felt myself in sympathy with the band. A slight guilt and so I would do some reviews of concerts they did with the smaller groups that they lead, that and an article or two just because I always knew the pen must constantly move, the ink must flow.
Jazz and classical (symphonic, operatic et al) have always been blood relatives. There was, starting in the 20th century a cross pollination as modern classical composers including Dmitri Shostakovich, Darius Milhaud and Francis Poulenc incorporated some jazz devices like unique time signatures and instrumentation into their scores. Within their oeuvre some pieces by Charles Mingus or Duke Ellington could be accurately labeled as suites with improvisatory sections for soloists.
Opera has more in common with jazz than would seem obviously apparent on the surface. Both have their established lexicon whose foundation is built off of, changed according to the artist’s vision of execution or done in meticulous recreation as they were first written/performed. For jazz it is the standards, for opera it is its cannon whose list depends upon which era one is referring to (classical, baroque et al). Rife with extreme feelings, opera is a fertile ground for jazz which also has a strong element of emotions as an important component in its DNA.
There have been opera inspired jazz albums both of the full voiceless translations variety and of collections of songs from various operas by one composer or as made famous by a particular singer. The best of these show the personality of both composer and musician in equal if not alternating measure.
The latest foray into the field is by DYAD which is the duo of Lou Caimano on alto saxophone and Eric Olsen on piano doing works from Giacomo Puccini’s (1858-1924) operas. Both musicians show what they can do in their solo statements but the performances remain in the service of the melody of which Puccini can be said to be the king (of his era). The musicians are coming from a not strictly jazz background and this allows for their interplay to have a different type of unity than were they just from the jazz world. The looseness is replaced by emotion which resonates as Puccini had intended yet the template still managing to feel as of our time, valid.
“Musetta’s Waltz” (La Boheme) Has a casual grace akin to someone decked out in beautiful clothes whose quality includes the perfect fit which allows for completely natural movement. At points the alto has a near clarinet cadence. Throughout the album Eric’s articulation is crisp, there are points where some of the decisions in what/how he plays within his solos show some non-jazz choices and it adds to the ability of the album to call one back for repeated listening. Both musicans can play but need not play in a certain way all the time.
“Act 1 Overture” (Madame Butterfly) at the beginning the piano has a regal darkness, a bar decked out in mahogany and Carrara marble. The tempo is quicker than the previous two pieces and shows that speed does not restrict the possibility of beauty. During the middle section the deep voice of the piano does an almost Bach (ish) counterpoint while the sax takes on longer than previously heard lines of a vocaliese quality yet without any discordance. One can almost imagine Cio-Cio San’s fingers caressing the folds of the blindfold. Within each piece there are no drastic tempo changes, there is abundant skill but lack of filigree which can distract or slacken the tension. Just as when translating a work or literature from another language (or from antiquity) the voice and decisions of the translator are important yet they should be in the background a sublimation of the ego for which the work is made stronger. With this project of course there are plenty of solos and three way dialogues, between the musicians and the spirit of Puccini but there is no radical point of departure, one could almost imagine a war privation Puccini using some of these arrangements for reduced performances as he waited out the troubles much the way Igor Stravinsky did with “Histoire du Soldat” (1918).
There is a unified feeling to the album above and beyond all the songs originally coming from Puccini’s pen. To get full enjoyment from the album one need not be familiar with the original operatic source material. The sonics of the album are impressive. The pristine sound when heard through headphones presents a crystalline intimacy of experience without any digital frigidity. Eric’s playing especially during faster tempoed moments shows him taking different avenues then what would usually be percussive runs falling off the Bud Powell family tree.
“E lucevan le Stelle” (Tosaca) is my favorite track. It starts with a swirling minor chord flurry offered up by the piano. Lou’s tone has the good tartness of a white wine made more enjoyable by being served ice cold. The piece is melancholy yet beautiful, a pretty woman softly crying for joy and the knowledge that the moment like all others too must end. Towards the end of the piece there is lone piano which is cinematic in its ability to call forth images, different for every listener. The sax comes back at the end, a bluesy lament for two.
I type up my review and gently tuck it into the manila envelope. A blue black shawl of cigar smoke hangs over my typewriter. I figure to go mail this out as it always looks better than waiting to be asked for it.
I stop at the kiosk before the entrance to the metro to buy some flowers. The ones which catch my eye are in a plastic bucket by themselves. The old woman wraps them in green tissue paper for me;
“You are lucky these are left, this time of year most of the flowers in this color go to either funerals or weddings…”
Maxwell Chandler Paris 2013
This article is not to be used or reprinted without the expressed permission of Maxwell A. Chandler (email@example.com)
French composer/pianist Erik Satie (1866-1925) was a proto modernist in music and occasionally, writing. His work provided inspiration for later generations’ genres such as minimalism; ambient et al. His music could be stately or playful. The length of his compositions drastically varied from thirty seconds to extended suites for piano. According to him, every composition was the perfect length to suit its purpose. While he retained his eccentric playfulness, as he grew older he began to further solidify this theories. He envisioned what he termed Furniture Music. This would be music that went with and added to the ambiance of a room or place. This was an early precursor to things like John Cage’s (1912-1992) composition 4’33 (1952) in which the concert hall remains completely silent for said amount of time, the ambient noise of the venue being the composition, changing from venue to venue. The Swiss architect Le Corbusier (1887-1965) was offered a pavilion for the worlds fair (1958) in which he envisioned a sort of installation with music to match the atmosphere of the place as created by Satie or his more discordant Gemini and Organized Sound progenitor Edgar Varese (1883-1965).
Although what Varese and Satie did stylistically was drastically different, both sought to draw inspiration from and enhance an area’s ambience through music and it’s, on Satie’s part at least, subtle integration to the place. These theories would later morph in the hands of others into occasional gimmick or camp and can be seen as the immediate precursors to muszak. Now with the advent of MP3 players and other technology one can travel anywhere and bring hundreds of albums, held in a device no bigger than a pack of playing cards. The convenience of technology has made it so that in a variation upon what Satie had envisioned, one could have the right music providing the soundtrack regardless of where they are.
This ability to have the right music to suit any situation or place should have made it so that music is now looked at and assessed differently. The best music posseses components of art and entertainment but that which leans more in one direction is of equal value when presented at the right time.
Dave Deason is a Portland based composer and multi-instrumentalist (piano/woodwinds). His latest album From another Time is mood music but not as termed in a pejorative way. The entire CD is thematic, not necessarily in subject but more importantly, in atmosphere. The basic description would be ballads possessing an all pervading lushness and sweetness as can be experienced by the kiss from eating one of the better dark chocolates, or the chill good Whisky produce as it is sipped. The tracks alternate between Dave on solo piano or with string section.
One of the reasons this album works so well is Dave’s strong background in classical music allows for richer layering of instrumental voices, never having the flat feel that even some of the “bigger” names in jazz have fallen into with their “With Strings” albums. Using all originals and not going with the traditional fare of standards for this project, he also avoids falling into the trap of making an uneven marriage between classical and jazz which often leaves fans of both indifferent.
“Nocturne” opens the album, a perfect aural mission statement. This piece shows how the strings are present not just to serve as filling but as an active part of the overall composition and execution. “Nocturne” conjures up scenes from an imaginary black and white movie, the heroine out on a balcony, wind making her dress gently sway as the eyes of the city blink neon below. Towards the end of the piece the strings swell over the soloing of the piano and you know someone is going to get kissed. This piece also serves as an initial introduction to the impressive sonics of the album. There are no empty spaces to slacken the tension, nor any over use of studio magic to make the sound come at one block like or overly cold, as can be a danger in this digital age.
“Elegy” is the first solo piano piece. Dave is once again well served by his classical background as his playing shows strong melodicism and crisp articulation. This is by no means a straight out jazz album and the piano never lapses into overtly virtuosic soloing which would take the listener out of the mood.
One of my other favorite solo piano tracks is “I’m Calling You”. With its repetition of a melodic phrase which weaves and disappears through a sort of stuttered and descending structure. With its air of mystery, this shows influence of 20th century composers such as Anton Webern (1883-1945) and impressionistic elements akin to Maurice Ravel (1875-1937).
“From Another Time” is a melancholy piano remembering something while the string section commiserates with it. It is richly textural, offering what could be the artistic illegitimate child of Nelson Riddle and Max Steiner. At the halfway mark in the song is plucked bass playing over soaring violin and bowed cello added to by a shimmering piano.
This album is inspired by a feeling of a bygone time yet does not feel inauthentic as we are listening to one of our contemporaries looking back over his shoulder at what had come before, inspired by it yet not seeking to trap it under museum glass. The album is sixty minutes long with pristine sound and brief liner notes. Having done scoring work for the independent film From Kilimanjaro with Love (2008) has also inspired and left its mark on Dave, as the album has an overall cinematic feel to it, a tone poem for the celluloid age.