Saturday, October 18, 2008
A rare day with no discs waiting around to be heard allows me to delve back into the vinyl, entering the D's.
Malcolm Dalglish/Grey Larsen - Banish Misfortune (June Appal)
Relative to the bulk of my collection, this is an extreme outlier. Not quite sure how I acquired it, in fact, though quite possibly as a gift from my friend Mike Zelie who occasionally plied me with more folk-oriented music (including the first David Grisman album, which also still sounds good). Now, I don't know ass from elbow when it comes to traditional Irish music and, understanding that this is by two young (at the time--1977) Americans, this work still strikes me as really gorgeous, just beautifully rendered tunes.
Dalglish plays hammer dulcimer and sings a little, Larsen wields English Concertina, Anglo Concertina, guitar, flute, tin whistle and recorder. As near as I can tell, they play the pieces straight without pretension (mostly traditional songs here with a few originals) allowing the entirely lovely melodies to speak for themselves; I could listen to the theme from "O'Connell's Lamentation" all day. (Wondering if Klucevsek ever covered any of this material). I think Dalglish, at least, went on to more new-agey fields and I know he scored a Disney animated film.
Not like I don't have enough to keep me occupied but if anyone would care to recommend other things along this line, I'd appreciate it.
I probably first heard Anthony Davis on Leo Smith's "Reflectativity" album on Kabell and shortly thereafter, in the waning days of the loft jazz era ('78-'79), caught him live around town a bunch., sometimes with Chico Freeman's band and one memorable occasion in duo with vibist Jay Hoggard (I think on the same NYU bill as the Jarman/Moye duo). iirc, it was on that date that Davis played several compositions of his, including his beautiful "A Walk through the Shadow", that he'd return to often over the next decade.
Still, "Episteme" came as a shock. I think it had to do somewhat with the sheer precision of the band, that overlay of a classical approach (via minimalism, Lou Harrison, etc.) that you rarely if ever heard among the jazz avant-garde. Plus, short of Don Cherry, you didn't hear allusions to Balinese music very often in the music. And you simply didn't hear these rhythms. Davis struck a balance between genres that was exquisite at the time and hasn't, for my ears, lost more than a pint or two of juice since. This and, even more, the next record to be discussed, established an early high point for Davis, imho, that he never re-attained. Great hearing Reich's violinist of choice, Shem Guibbory here, mixing it up with Davis and George Lewis.
I guess nothing from India Navigation has ever been released on disc? I saw a post somewhere that alleged that when label owner Bob Cummins' died, which he did in 2007, his will stated that all rights would return to the original musicians. Not sure if anything's come of that vis a vis reissuance, In any case, Davis' "Variations in Dream-Time", his finest recording imho, remains generally unavailable and, of course, image-less on-line AFAIK. It's a sextet with Davis, Lewis, Wadud, AkLaff, JD Parran and Rick Rozie, two side long pieces, taking some elements from Episteme (I think there was a string of recordings where he always included "A Walk through the Shadows" in some form), but the rhythms are rawer and more to the fore. And the pieces cohere marvelously, never a dull moment, always rich. To the extent that it's still jazz (arguable) easily one of my top ten jazz albums of the 80s.
The trio with James Newton and Abdul Wadud from 1982 gave some notice as to Davis' inclinations, a fairly dry, neoclassical effort with, on Newton's part, some allusions to shakuhachi. I was wondering if this would open up for me upon re-listen but no, still sounds arid in a similar way that Muhal's excursions into academic areas has always struck me. Very "professional" but anemic.
Though still a fine album, I always pegged "Hemispheres", also recorded in '83, as the beginning of Davis' "slide" toward academe and uptown acceptance. A dance score for the exceedingly athletic Molissa Fenley (I did see this performed once--maybe at BAM?--and she was impressive) and with a cover painting by the sizzling hot art property Francesco Clemente, it was practically begging for crossover status. I sued to think his massive 'fro grew ever more so in inverse proportion to his acceptance by the Lincoln Center crowd, his one overt sign of reluctance.
An expanded Episteme band, with Leo Smith (in great form), Dwight Andrews and vibist David Samuels in tow, they do a rousing version of Davis' "Little Richard's New Wave" and a nice reading of the obligatory "...Shadow" with lovely, drawn-out strings. It's a little too clean though, a bit sandpapered. The rhythms have shifted from Balinese to occasionally clunkier fare; the last piece is an awkward meld of march cadences and attempted funk.
A solo album from 1984. Eh...this is getting difficult. Davis' playing is fine, I guess, but there's a ton of ballast here. [unexpected Erstwhile connection: Earl Howard's "particle W" for piano and tape is played here] Attractive lines then have minutes of filigree appended for no apparent purpose other than to show off his chops. Interesting the distinctions I find myself making in my dotage. I'm pretty sure I'd still derive great enjoyment from hearing, say, Abdullah Ibrahim (better still, Dollar brand) go on one of his inspired rampages, pounding away at the same passage until it was black and blue, largely because of the commitment one senses, the sheer determination to wring out everything he can, plus the South African fundamental that repetition equals importance. I don't get that, at this point, from Davis.
So I'll skip the remaining two LPs, "Undine" and "The Ghost Factory" (the latter I recall already disliking when I first purchased it). Let me know if I'm wrong.
I went to see his opera, "X" at the New York City Opera when it premiered (and have the work on disc). It was a mixed bag, to say the least. Unsurprisingly, the more jazz-based pieces were fine; I think it was a version of the Episteme ensemble in the pit. Or maybe it was that they were fine in relation to the more "classical" writing which was predictably (by this point) tiresome and the vocal stylings, which were harsh and declamatory in the manner of any thousand post-serial contemporary works. Davis was a fine melodist but I get the impression that he was (still is? haven't followed him) overly eager to make an impression on the uptown classical world, the Babbit-ized, Wuorinenian (!) audience who, at least at the time, probably still, viewed downtown with distaste and black people with apprehension unless they come wrapped in NPR gift paper.
Or am I being unfair?
Addendum: One of the oddities of my LP collection is the presence of only a single Miles Davis album Used to be a couple but somewhere along the line, likely due to an unscrupulous borrowee, I lost my copy of Live at the Plugged Nickel. Still irks me. But as I mentioned some time ago, there were certain musicians in near constant airplay on WKCR, musicians who I didn't feel as obligated to buy their stuff as I did others. Davis was surely one. I remember my friend Corky had, for some reason, a copy of Bitches Brew in '71 or '72, which I listened to at his house and was intrigued by (this is before I heard any jazz, for all intents and purposes) but I guess not enough to pick it up. Within a year or two, I'd heard a ton of Miles on radio, of course largely enjoying it. However, given that by the mid-70s I was thoroughly AACM-ized, I admit to looking askance on "On the Corner" and subsequent funkier offerings (Ahgharta and Pangaea were essentially unavailable stateside, though I loved them when heard on radio). Obviously a mistake, at least to a point (I've still no interest in the 80s material) but I've long since filled out my Miles section with CDs aplenty.
My dad had "Sketches of Spain", which he disliked (didn't swing enough) and which I thought I'd purloined, but apparently not. The sole representative of Mr. Davis is, of all things, "Porgy and Bess", which iirc Linda gave to me long ago. Lovely record! Always meant to listen to more Gil Evans, also only represented by a single LP with me, "Svengali".