Posts Tagged saxophone
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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My writing going out in the world, I know it is merely a matter of personal perception but it seems to go further when the notes become separated from one another. Each paragraph takes up residency in a different piece.
The cat laying by the fountain and the sound of her broom on the steps both captured by my pen on the same day and sharing a page in my notebook. Once utilized they live many miles apart as one goes to an essay while the other in a poem.
All the words circle the globe, they create the lines of a special map as groups of words come together to form countries with names like;
“Bar at night…”
“That girl from then…”
“Regret from a lack of tears.”
No nation’s borders have straight lines of demarcation, although some do more so than others owing to the suppleness of certain words and their groupings.
I take long walks and talk to myself about the nature of what goes into any given work. Picasso once told Andre Malraux that he dreamed his “Bull” sculpture, which was the skeletal head of the animal made up of a bicycle seat for skull and handlebars for horns, would one day have a reverse birth. Like watching a film run backwards, the parts would subtly vibrate, then shake and then detach from one another. Jumping out the window each would separately place themselves back on the frame of some bicycle, where their former prestige unnoticed, they would go back to carrying out their original functionality.
I imagined the similar magical motion behind the absorption of my notes into various pieces. The sea change that the words underwent from their birth in a reporter pad into something less functional but perhaps grander in some people’s eyes.
With the vision of the Toro behind me, my inner dialogue on this day was the nature of influence and components which make up any work of art.
It has been written that the twin wellsprings of all modern (Western) classical music flows from Igor Stravinsky (1882 –1971) and Arnold Schoenberg (1874 –1951). With the passage of time, these two influences have not waned but in some cases have occurred via a ripple effect, the influenced composers in turn influencing the following generations.
Even for these two composers, neither of them started off fully realized as the artists whom countless people would treasure. And once their artistic identities were fully gestated, there was still a near constant evolution occurring. The forms of inspiration offered up by these two were the foundation to build off of or reject, spurring on further explorations. Their different theories and techniques taken apart, cannibalized to reappear in new forms, like The Bull.
Modern jazz has had many similarities with modern classical music. In both cases diverse components from traditional folk/ethno-world and previously established cannon have been utilized and mixed to varying degrees with the aural vernacular of the day along with each composers own voice. Creating something new, yet linked to what came both before and after.
Both jazz and modern classical have had instances of cross pollination within their genres and with each other. As both genres were ever evolving, they have conveyed an aural shorthand for capturing the zeitgeist of progress.
Although non-populist music stateside is largely marginalized in regards to where the casual listener can discover (or see live) works which do not strictly adhere to a genre, in some ways it is a golden age for creating uneasy to define works. Now artists need not restrict themselves from where they cull influences and inspiration. Cologne musician/composer Jurgen Friedrich’s new release Monosuite (For String Orchestra and improvisers) is more a classical piece with improvised solos than a jazz album. Yet in this age we need not worry about coming up with a too exacting classification.
Jurgen draws from not only a myriad of musical influences and inspirations but painters and nature as well. All perfectly apropos given the visual feel to the piece.
The structure of the work is a suite which is non-programmatic. The orchestra is made up of strings with the improvised solos of bass, alto saxophone, piano and drums. The lack of a brass or woodwind section allows for the episodic nature of the suite to subtly present itself to the listener.
“Waves” begins with a lush swell of strings, sonorous cello and viola above which crystalline waves of violin rise. This is a good example of the subtle colorations of the score. There is a reoccurrence throughout; a sort of ambient vibration(s) as one may experience when looking at the color field paintings of Marc Rothko or during a long good conversation.
“Breaks” is mainly the fluttering breath of flute punctuated by the occasional emergence of the orchestra. It is meditative beauty, the soft wind which hits the cheeks as one catches themselves standing in contemplation of an abstract.
“Fiddlesticks” has a great drum pattern accompanied by strings which conjure up a North African feel. These colorations strive for the rigid confines of authenticity to the place from where they came but as an added influence to be incorporated into the esprit de corps. The melody takes on a sort of rolling motion, rolling the way the dunes do across a dessert and over which can faintly be heard the glissando of piano and above that, horn.
“Blossom” starts with strings building into a wave of tension. The shrill violins are a rope or wire about to break, the crooked looping cello the voice warning that they are about to do so. The string is broken and there is a fall through the roof into a lopsided cabaret where the piano attempts to intermittently gallop away when the discordant voice of the horn is distracted by the ratchet like percussion. The bass becomes both the front door opening and closing and the footsteps of the patrons many of whom wear ill-fitting hats. The flute is a type of nocturnal peace as can be achieved in such places at a late hour, not necessarily real but believed. This section marks the introduction of discordant elements. I would not say they are necessary but their presence with their piquant cacophony serves to underscore the lushness of the more out right beautiful sections.
“Low Tide” is my favorite section. It has an elliptical flute breathing over the tinkling of a piano. It is a predawn Gotham, someone practicing in their fourth floor walkup or softly talking to themselves via the ivories. There are swells of strings and the rumble of bass, so much concrete resettling in its predawn coolness. The percussion is the rattle of found objects, umbrella skeletons with their spindly metal bones now bereft of any fabric, empty cans which lost the fight and with their middle dented in now have a V for the victory of their opponent. All tripping up or being kicked away by a lone flaneur. Walking alone at night, gently enfolded in the wings of the city, I want to wear a suit the color of yesterday but will settle for a peace nestled in discordance.
The suite ends with “Weave” which is not a summing up but more the mirror twin of the first section. Where our entry into the suite was lush, this last section is densely beautiful and of a darker hue. There is short bursts of strings, their humming a code converging with flinty notes of piano. Cello conjuring up the ghost of Boccherini’s nights mark a change in the sections cadence. Percussion and piano mirror the pattern of the strings before flute, piano and bass delicately add solos which stay inside the melody.
In his composition Jurgen never falls back on repetition to move onto the next idea or to merely fill space. All the soloists make statements in the end, the effect is of individuals running into a crowd, joining it and then continuing on at the same brisk pace from within it. The close of the suite, the strings drop away and it is all soft murmurings and plinkings, the symmetry of beauty.
More information on Jurgen
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I decide to take a walk in the opposite direction from all that I have learned geographically of my newly adopted city. I walk under a freeway ramp whose concrete columns are cracked and for some reason make me think of an old time taxi dancer now bereft of music. There are some barbeque places and alike, several tiny dive bars dark which seem to be siblings. All being kept propped up by the regulars who in turn are held erect by the cheap vinyl of their stools, stiffened with age and the work week need to eventually get back to it. The side of one of the places had chain link fence whose bottom did not quite reach the ground or perhaps the earth had retreated from its touch. There are the skeletons of several cars with concrete block feet, a graveyard of stilled motion. Objects and their myths. I decide to go in and let myself briefly be anesthetized by whisky hopes and carnival dreams.
The juke box is no good, contrary silence which is what the regulars want as they have heard it all before and are intent upon studying the diminishing returns of their perpetual last rounds. It is all right, I truly am only here for one. I leave without having been offered a word by anyone but I trust they knew I was, as always simpatico.
Walking back I hum to myself, the music lulling me into contemplation. Lately I have been reading the Russians, not just the immortals but the newer greats too (Babel, Solzhenitsyn, Olesha). It has made me contemplate a stoicism which tries to see a little good even in a bad situation without lapsing into any sort of Panglossian blind optimism.
Music no longer has the steadfast genre classifications and while this in itself may not be viewed as a bad thing, there have been some definite negative side effects. Although proper usages for genre terms are more often than not now made vague and irrelevant, a common point of reference is needed for any kind of interaction. Speaking in the broadest sense, for there will always be exceptions to every rule; this has quelled the casual listener’s ability to see and hear things which fall under the mainstream’s radar. With the bottom line almost always winning out, to find anything different one must now make an effort to search, which means it stays largely unknown to people who like music but do not live for it.
As I now strive to see the positive, the good thing to come from this is that those artists following their muse outside of the mainstream are now freed up to draw upon diverse influences differing from what their work may end up as. The freedom caries over too into their ability to incorporate myriad stylistic turns within their own work.
Jason Miles is a Grammy winning producer/composer/musician. From the very start of his career his pedigree shows diversity in the spirit of which he continues to create with today. Within his large and varied palette can be found some pop elements. Pop, not in the pejorative term as used to describe the vapid state of the genre now but harkening back to producers and arrangers like Van Dyke Parks, Quincy Jones and George Martin. He has also introduced components of world music and electronica into the realm of pop and fusion.
A Prayer for the Planet is Global Noize’s second album. As with some of his other projects, here Jason brings in some guest stars: world vocalist Falu and turnbulists/efx maestro DJ Logic among others.
The sound throughout the entire album is pristine. “Tokyo Sunrise” starts with softly ascending electro-washes over which a soprano saxophone played not in the nasal mid-eastern cadence as is so often utilized but with more legato gentle breathy notes, slowly unfurls. There is the percussion of drums intermittently peppered with finger snaps. The piece has the ambience of when one is initially arriving back from the land of slumber. Those first golden ambassadors of the early morning sun waking one as projected fingertips gently caress still closed lids, the soft growing heat signaling an end to the night. There is a churning of bass and vintage sounding synthesizer washes which add richness to the piece from its halfway point. The piece finishes with the sax trailing off, the sun moving down the street to wake the rest of the city, heralding the start of the new day.
“Charisma Love” has world music vocalese by Falu. Although I do not know what she is singing I greatly enjoy the song, which emphasizes the universal aspect of all music and underscores the general philosophy of Jason’s project. There is a compelling mélange of world music meets funk, led by a transistor toned guitar which serves as contrast to the plucked string section swells and soprano saxophone runs. The whole song in general seems to exist within a series of pulses as could be created by seeing a beautiful woman or something as equally enjoyable and perhaps nocturnal.
“Viva La Femme” is my favorite track on the album. It starts off with voice coming as if from a long ways away via a radio. There are layers of percussion and electro flourishes as signal flares that something is about to happen. The melody created by a chant is mirrored by harmonica; some local in a café in Marseilles who plays for change and cannot but help have the ambient surroundings enter into his own music. Bolstered by a dark oscillating ambient churning a rhythmic panting can be heard before a more song-like and melodic vocalese enters. There are some Gitane like scales upon which the melody is built. I can taste Pastis in my mouth as my feet feel the cobblestones of the street. The song successfully creates a layered mélange of electro and acoustic elements. It is a joy derived from music with the music generating an organic near on eroticism. It is all beauty which sets the mind to wandering and toes to tapping.
“Walking On Air” has a great relaxed vibe combining a down-tempo feel with elements of jazz in the soft flute lead voice. Over the entire album, even with guests coming and going, there is cohesiveness to the playing. It never feels like anyone is merely playing a part which will be jig sawed into the rest of the song. Even though there are electronic elements to the songs it is never at the cost of emotion.
With his Global Noize project Jason has set out to create works with various collaborators which ignores any kind of stylistic restrictions in execution or from where they pull in their influences. Subtler and left unsaid is the shown example within this album of how music can be fun, groove and still be art.
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More Information on Jason
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
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