Posts Tagged review
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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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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Coming in from lunch as always, unless it is nighttime and I have finished working, I am alone. In my solitude I remain silent, not feeling the need to make a show of how tired I am after my long walk back on a full stomach.
A plump fly sits on the edge of the bed, perhaps confusing the brown duvet for soil. Like me, he wants only to take an hour or two to sleep in the warm sun. When I stir, no matter how fast he flies away, later on I will still manage to capture him with my prose.
I must be careful though, to not metamorphose him into a type of insect which could bite and make me sick.
Not too long with my head down and I wake up having left my food stupor behind. I work for a few hours, the words mount up in pleasant cascades which make me giddy until everything seems to be covered in ink and one would have to lie on their belly to write on what remained of the whiteness of the wall.
Now I can go out and work up an appetite, accompanied depending upon what pattern of people the city is wearing, by the heat of desire.
I grab my book bag from its place by the door. Locking up I take the stairs and pat my pocket three times for luck. Once I own a home I will keep the keys on an oval brass keychain as would have been handed to any gumshoe in an old film.
I will still travel the world and even though I would not need it again until I was once more home, no matter where I was, I would keep it in my pocket letting it weigh my coat down on the left side. After becoming used to the weight and learning to keep my pen in my right pocket as to prevent any knocking together with the brass, I would not even need to go home. I would carry it with me, embodied by the brass in my pocket.
Amy did not understand why I did not merely buy the so often described keyring instead of the ordeal of working towards becoming a home owner of which she suspected contributed to my moodiness. No, no. It was a phony faith which I feared. An act, such as just totting around the keychain, was a pantomime of satiated ambition.
The poet in me once said during a party by way of dramatically filling in a dull silence that we carry our homes in our hearts, particularly with the food we cook and the songs we sing.
A correlation between cooking and music, specifically jazz is that one can have a recipe but then depending upon location, available ingredients and even mood there are changes or improvisations made from the established conception. Just as a musician may improvise off of “Melancholy Baby” so too can it occur with a pot of gumbo or Coq Au Vin.
Stylistically, whether it is food or music sometimes there is a sea change within the creator which is not about rejecting the familiar ancestry but building off of it to create something new but still containing recognizable components.
The debut of John Schott’s new album and trio Actual Trio travels along such lines. The trio’s set up is that of a classic guitar trio, this familiar ground serves as a sort of jumping off point. The material on the album is all original compositions. While not a radical stylistic departure from its trio forefathers neither is there any museum glass stagnation.
“Frequently asked Questions” has a laconic strolling quality to its structure. There is an almost programmatic feel to the piece. Me, someone, flapping madly the lapels of my raincoat as I hit the street. Daydreams and inspirations as befitting a flaneur. Within the DNA of the piece are elements of Grant Green and Wes Montgomery combined within a generation also equally exposed to rock, blues and modernist composers such as Babbitt, Berio and Schoenberg.
John’s tone is a clean sound akin to the cadence of those from vintage Fender Guitars. Throughout the album he eschews use of effects to alter or gild his instruments voice. The interplay among the musicians is immediately apparent and made more impressive by the fact that the entire album was recorded live in the studio in one session, without overdubbing. All the playing is top notch yet there is never the distraction of overly fussy to mire things down.
“Hold On Sheldon” is a sort of samba as if done by James Brown late at night when a good portion of the band has gone home. The varying components within the piece show what big ears the trio has. The bright punch of John’s guitar declaiming single note runs, a Morse code to get funky morphs into bent string chiming; the mission bell in the land of the blues calling people in for catharsis or to dance. John Hanes drums do not merely keep time nor add density to the piece but provide a sort of forward thrust feeling. Especially starting at the midway point to the song. He incorporates intricate polyrhythms and touches of louder rock leaning heaviness, underscoring that is not merely a lead voice being backed by two others.
“Egyptians” starts off with the guitar peppering Dan Seaman’s rich bass pattern. The initial tempo suggests an air of slinky contemplation. A descending guitar pattern followed by a brief series of volcanic rumblings and the tempo and general feel of the song drastically changes. The funk of a Saturday night circa the late seventies. The trio lock into a deep groove. If we are not fighting or crying then we should be dancing said a neo-Greek chorus from atop their barstools. The trio show an inherent taste regardless of the tempo or tempo changes in a song. Absent is any kind of stylistic Achilles’ heel in regards to performance ability.
The entire CD finds great interplay among the musicians. With the manner in which the CD was recorded, it has a great organic, warm sound. Who these musicians are may change down the line with time or travel. This CD offers a compelling snapshot of their here and now, well worthwhile.
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The cat knew that she was not supposed to be on the jacket despite the fact that I had earlier lazily let it fall to the floor. Staying low to the ground, she approached it from across the room with the slow deliberate steps of an actor in a Noh play.
The end of the day found the swallows returning the night, their spread wings carrying the blue black back up into the sky. In this season, so swift was their ascent that the motion, seen peripherally did not take attention away from the garment.
Finally she pounces on it, looking up at me to gauge my mood. I can’t be bothered to reprimand and after a moment of silence she comfortably settles down amongst the folds. If only I could make everyone, someone, as happy so easily.
I pad into my office. The top of the lowest of my bookcases where I keep my blank notepads also has a vase. I keep flowers as often as I can remember but not for the obvious reasons. Always a cut flower has already received its death sentence. I like this subtle reminder of the terminal futility of beauty. I used to keep the vase closer to my desk but depending upon the type of flower, the petals would fall onto my workspace mixing with the pencil shaving butterflies.
An important component of all great works of art regardless of medium is its ability to seemingly speak to each person individually, calling for it to be incorporated into our lives and selves in some manner of totem. For every person it will vary, which is fine so long as there is not too great a deviation from the artist’s initial intent.
Outside, the huffing of trucks dropping off palettes of things for the restaurants, the murmur of a crowd whose bodies are in constant motion and the intermittent testimony of impatient car horns. The dichotomy of civilization, all the places of man, and every city, have the same noises yet each place has its own subtle variations which flavor it. It is the same with birthdays and funerals. I grab a book and record off of the shelves.
Poetry and jazz share certain key qualities with cities. Within works of both are specific intents, executed in such a way as to leave room for the audience to fill in the blanks as is meaningful to themselves. The effect is akin to hearing a story and without changing the narrative structure, each of us imaging in our own way what the characters look like.
All poetry is poetry, yet there exists within this blanket term a myriad of genres and sub genres. The same can be said of jazz. Each has its cannon which is revered and passed down from generation to generation even while the art form(s) remain in flux and ever evolving.
The current album by Wayne Horvitz underscores how well the two art forms mesh. Some Places Are Forever Afternoon is paying tribute to American poet Richard Hugo (1923-1982).
Richard Hugo is a perfect fit for Wayne’s genre defying music as neither can be pegged down to a specific time or rigidly within any one specific school. Richard’s writing was rhythmically complex and forward thinking, yet was sometimes framed within the older structure of an epistolary format of a bygone era. Wry humor, heartbreak, nature and bars coexist within Richard’s work providing the perfect mercurial templates off of which Wayne works from.
The music while not programmatic is inspired by the poetry with which it directly emotionally resonates. One need not be familiar with the writing to enjoy the music but when paired there is no feeling of the sonics being a lesser artistic sibling, so organically do they enmesh themselves.
The ensemble is made up of long time collaborators from two of Wayne’s bands; Sweeter Than the Day and the Gravitas Quartet. The instruments which comprise the band are far from that of the usual jazz ensemble which subtly underscores the lack of sonic borders.
The track listing gives the name of each song and also the poem that inspired it. Also reproduced are the poems along with some photos which are visual works of poetry unto themselves. The photos show, if not exact locations of Hugo’s life and work, then places cut of the same cloth.
“Money or a story” exists within a quick groove which is not overly frantic, its steady engulfing pace, like a poetic metre. Each of the instruments offers up their voice in long lines, the similarity of declamation creating a density usually achieved by complexity of changing tempos but here made more by a layering. The effect achieved is even stronger for its departure from the normal technique.
Starting softly, “Those who remain are the worst” unfolds into a near waltz like feel with an organic casualness. The richness of the cello at the piece’s introduction is counter balanced first by the plink-tink transition of the piano and then the coronet and guitar. So different but go together well are the guitar and horn; that they conjure up the feeling of a sort of musical signpost within the piece’s landscape along with the people who stand by them waiting, in conversation. The work ends with the woody murmuring of bassoon, the secrets which we softly tell ourselves and the odd things that remind us of them.
Slowly revealing itself, “You drink until you are mayor” is one of my favorite pieces on the album. It is dark but not in the artificial milieu of theater. The darkness is more akin to the repercussion of deep thoughts as occurring when one is honest with themselves late at night or early in the morning. A pulsing drone of piano, bass and guitar with near subliminal discordance in the background shows that there is some Walter Piston and Ned Rorem mixed into the artistic DNA of the piece. It is all legato beauty, illuminated darkness as reflected in the curved brass railing of the bar. As the piece nears its end, the instruments stagger their statements. The silence between adding to the feel and being of equal importance before elliptically the work ends as it had begun.
Poetry and jazz each in their own way offer a myriad of emotional, spiritual and intellectual possibilities. This album shows how well these two universal art forms can go together. It is the power of the commonalties which we all make our own yet allow us to still sympathetically shake our heads when hearing of someone else with the blues or stretching their arms skyward in ecstatic joy.
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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.
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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.
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