Sunday, May 06, 2007

When a fledgling performance space opens a five-minute walk away from one's home, you're kind of obliged to go and lend support even if you have a pretty good idea that the music offered isn't going to be your smear of marmite. Such occurred last night with the inaugural concert at Homefield Advantage which is presenting four Saturday evening shows in a second floor gallery (Lex Leonard) here in Jersey City. From the look of things, this series is going to concentrate on the avant-to-ecstatic jazz end of the spectrum with shows by Jason Kao Hwang, Tony Malaby and others.

Last evening's set featured Daniel Carter with a guitarist and drummer. Admittedly, I wasn't expecting much of anything, but that's indeed what we got. Carter is obviously a good player (I'd seen him previously in the Astor Place subway station as a member of Test) and I can imagine moderately enjoying a solo set from him, especially when he plays it relatively straight. He rotated from flute to trumpet to tenor to clarinet to alto, doing some nice tonal playing on the first two. But it was all in the context of a typical Viz Fest-y formless, would-be-ecstatic set. The drummer was one of those thousands who brings a few dozen accoutrements, toying with each one for 20 seconds or so, checking them off some mental list then proceeding to the next (btw, I thought there'd been a law enacted against the use of bullroarers, no?). Were I his daddy, I'd lock him up in a room for a few months with a snare and a single stick. The guitarist included a Midi set-up, recording and altering his own and other's tones in pedestrian fashion, something that was irritating 20 years, much less today. I'm given to understand he was once a disciple in Fripp's League of Crafty Guitarists.

Sounded like it.

Ah well, did my civic duty to support any remotely interesting venture in the neighborhood. Be tough to drag me back there, though.

New listening:

Alvin Lucier - Nothing Is Real (Wergo)
Alvin Lucier - Ever Present (Mode)
"Blue" Gene Tyranny - Out of the Blue (Unseen Worlds)
Lubomyr Melnyk - KMH (Unseen Worlds)


Jon said...

so I assume they don't have a speaker system, no possibility for live electronics?

Brian Olewnick said...

They were using two mounted speakers. Hard to gauge the quality from the kind of electronics that were being produced which may have been murky on their best day. Not up to Tonic standards, I think it's safe to say. General room sound seemed OK. Space is about 20' x 30'; they had seating for about 35. Twelve people showed.

soz said...

What's the word on those two Luciers, B?

Brian Olewnick said...

The word is, the Mode is excellent, the Wergo not so, imho. The latter has his arrangement of 'Strawberry Fields' ('Nothing Is Real') which is pretty nice--solo piano, eahphrase allowed to float on sustain. First run through is about five minutes which is then recorded on cheap cassette and played back from within a teapot, the lid of which is opened and closed to interesting and moving effect. Otherwise, the 'Silver Streetcar' work for solo triangle (also included on the Mode release) is OK, the other three not so intriguing.

All five works on the Mode release are really strong, though: 'Piper' for solo bagpipe (Matt Welch) roaming through a hall, 'Fan' for several kotos, '947' for flute and sine waves, the aforementioned 'Silver Streetcar' and 'Ever Present' for a mixed group.

Lucier, for me, often vacillates between too purely an acoustic experiment and then crossing over into (for lack of a better term) art. The Wergo is more the former, the Mode the latter.

Although, his maxim is: "No ideas but in things" so I leave open the possibility (probablity) that I'm missing a lot.

nirav said...

"No ideas but in things"

That's William Carlos William's motto (or at least it's a running theme through the first book of Paterson).

Brian Olewnick said...

You know (he says after googling) you're right, Nirav. I thought it was an unusually cool notion for someone to come up with as late as Lucier. Blame Mode for leading me astray!

Thanks for the proper attribution though.

James Keepnews said...

brian -- sorry you did not enjoy our performance on may 5. as to the comment:

"I'm given to understand he was once a disciple in Fripp's League of Crafty Guitarists."

...although there was discussion amongst crafties that we might be well served by having a stage-sized portrait of robert fripp in our performances, conceivably lighting incense beneath it as a demonstration of our devotion, it is inaccurate to describe students of guitar craft as being disciples of mr. fripp, much less disciples of the league of crafty guitarists.

be seeing you, james keepnews

Brian Olewnick said...

Hey James. Apologies for the snarkiness, but as a devoted fan of KC since '69's debut and a lover of "No Pussyfooting", the paths Fripp has taken since then have struck me as absolutely abysmal. I saw the League at the World Financial Center some ten years ago and found it not only awful but creepy in a cultish way. A friend gave me a DVD of a couple of KC shows in Japan from around 2000 that was just jaw-droppingly bad. So when I pick up tinges of same these days, I get a real sour taste in my mouth, unfair though that judgment may be. And goodness knows what passes for ecstatic jazz these days leaves me cold.

But hey, that's just me.

Still might drop by for Malaby and Wooley this weekend if I'm able to. If I'm still allowed in, that is. ;-)

James Keepnews said...

further clarification: lex leonard gallery is not all that new, having opened last september. i also would not characterize it as a "venue" -- it's a gallery, though lex has had many performances there to date, and generously permitted this series to run for all saturdays in may. the speaker system that powered the murky, pedestrian electronics you heard in our performance was mine, a single mackie powered speaker on a stand, not two mounted speakers.

it does sound as though there were many associated reasons for your response to the performance, though a few are intriguing to me, and in contradistinction to other responses. for example, i loved tim k. percussioning that night and found it invigorating and inspiring, as usual when i play with him -- others in attendance conveyed similar opinions. as far as locking him up in a room for a few months with a single snare and stick, another response could have been locking yourself in a room for a few months with a single art ensemble album -- or, mindful of your interest in early crimson, perhaps a single album by the jamie muir-era music improvisation company album. but hey, that's just me.

finally, of course you're always welcome to attend any of the remaining two shows in the series, if you're willing to risk it. with any kind of luck, they'll be what passes these days for unecstatic jazz. jk

Brian Olewnick said...

Hi James,

Much of this is simply a matter of preferences and mine, over the years, has evolved (some might say devolved) to appreciate music that's less "do everything you can, all the time" and more, "consider each thing you do, weigh it". For me, much of (to use the term, understanding it's oversimplifying) "ecstatic jazz" falls into the former category.

It's not absolute over time, I don't think. I had and have no problem listening to Don Moye probe the depths of his vast percussion arsenal with the AEC for example. Coincidentally enough, that first MIC album on ECM was one of my earliest forays into non-US free jazz (and my first exposure to Derek Bailey) when I picked it up around '74.

There were areas to be explored then and a freshness to the explorations by people like Moye and Muir. But there inevitably comes a time when a territory's been played out and the musicians fall into a certain kind of rut, both the originators (I doubt I'd get the same kick out of Moye today if he's plying the same routine) and their descendents. It becomes as much a rut as your basic bebop solo had become by the early 60s. Just because it's ostensibly "free" doesn't mean--at all--that ruts aren't encountered. For my money, it's become the rule rather than the exception, including in the cases of many musicians whose original work I value highly. I love Roscoe Mitchell, for example and think that something like "Congliptious" is one of the greatest recordings of the last 50 years but when I saw him at Viz Fest a couple years back it was, while perfectly capable, seriously boring, just recapitulating things he'd done before and much better. I couldn't help but think of "conservative" artists like Marsalis; there was more of a similarity there than I was comfortable with.

The snare drum comment was a reference to, among others, percussionists like Sean Meehan who have drastically limited the amount of equipment they utilize, preferring to discover the wealth of sound they're able to extract from such "meager" instrumentation and, more importantly to me, their considered placement of those sounds within a group context.

Of course, this isn't to everyone's taste but it's where mine stands and, as I'm giving my opinions about the music I encounter, there ya go.

jon abbey said...

haha, some bad choices there, James, since Brian's pretty damn familiar with the Art Ensemble catalog (I believe he reviewed most of them for the All-Music Guide, among other things). as for the Music Improvisation Company pointer, you do know that he's writing a biography of Keith Rowe, right?

James Keepnews said...

jon -- we all know what familiarity can breed. and i am aware that brian is writing a bio of keith rowe, a criminally underappreciated figure and one long overdue for such treatment. i'm glad brian's doing it, and look forward to reading it.

i imagine you have a larger point, which eludes me -- playing "gotcha" requires having gotten something. if you thought, for example, i was trying to imply that brian was unconversant with the aec, you're mistaken. my larger point, in re: locking people in rooms with the critco-aesthetic behavior modification tool of one's distemper, was to suggest that maybe no one should be locked in any room, with anything, for any reason, ever.

Jason Hwang said...

Some months have passed and I still have fond memories of this concert. James Keepnews processed his guitar and the band, via an open mic, with a chain of FX comprised of hardware multi-processors and software MAX-based programs. Usually when people use FX, I can recognize exactly what is in the chain. With James, the timbral mutations he created in the sonic decay altered the acoustic dimensions of the music in a manner I could not identify. The sonic imagery was quite beautiful and engaging. Daniel Carter's playing I've always loved. When a musician is so connected to their soul, I can always listen with a whole heart. Though I myself am a composer/arranger, ultimately I value content over form. (Re composition for improvisation, arguably, form is only valid if content is produced.) Tim Keiper is one of the top young drummers in the NYC. With his impecabble time and dynamic control, at this gig he explored a new vocabulary by attaching tubes to holes drilled in each drum. By blowing into the tubes, he change the interior air pressure and altered pitch. At times, it sounded like he had a kit of timpani or talking drums.

Thanks Brian for coming to the concert, expressing your thoughts honestly, and creating this forum for others.

Brian Olewnick said...

Hi Jason, thanks for posting.

While I'm of a different opinion than yourself regarding this performance, I did enjoy very much your arrangement of the Leroy Jenkins piece at Vision this year.

Different strokes!