Thursday, October 23, 2008

I've been thinking about Harry Partch for the past few days. Found this lovely photo this morning, one I'd never before seen. I'd been thinking about sui generis musicians, those who are virtually the sole occupant of their stylistic categories, who though widely revered, have few aesthetic descendants. No one, of course, can be 100% so. Partch had something in common with Lou Harrison, Colin McPhee and of course drew heavily on Southeast Asian and African traditions as well as a smattering of American folk forms and blues. But really, is there anything that sounds remotely like "Delusion of the Fury"? (I don't know--is there?)

His decision, in 1928 iirc, to burn his previous compositional output (he was born in 1901) and to design and construct his own instruments in accord with his own musical conception, of course, went a long way toward this uniqueness. Such a wonderful decision! Should happen more often...Can't help but compare it, in terms of resolution and abandonment of prior "knowledge" to AMM in 1965.

Perhaps as a result of this singular kind of move, you don't hear too much "Partch" in other musicians outside his direct orbit (people like Danlee Mitchell or Dean Drummond which music, in my experience, almost inevitably comes off as a pale imitation. Not bad, but without the pure juiciness of Partch). This might be appropriate though. Someone with a deep appreciation for Partch shouldn't, really, end up producing music that sounds at all like his. They should, though, be as stubborn, expansive and dedicated.

His name doesn't come up as often as it should these days, amongst the eai crowd, doubtless as there's little if any direct connection to post-AMM music, certainly less than the NY School. But Partch and Cage appreciated each other and post-Cageians could learn a thing or two.

Thinking of Partch vis a vis eai, I find myself thinking of Jeph Jerman, realizing I should get around to listening to more of his work. That desert quality....

But any other recommendation in the spirit (somehow) of Partch would be appreciated...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Don't recall if I recounted this before here (I have elsewhere), but the first so-called "loft jazz" event I attended, in May of 1976 at La Mama, though advertised as a Roscoe Mitchell/Malachi Favors duo, turned out to be a Mitchell/Oliver Lake/Phillip Wilson performance, and a memorable one. Mitchell came in first and played about 20 minutes of solo alto. Lake then ambled into the space, took out his curved soprano and joined in for another 15-20 minutes. Then Wilson appeared, set up his drum kit and accompanied the two for another, who knows, half-hour. I had the impression that Mitchell had no idea who, if anyone, would be joining him when he began.

I met Phillip later that year after I'd moved down to NYC and begun working at Environ. He tended to hang out there a good bit and was one of the warmest, most enjoyable people I encountered on the scene. I'd loved his underpinning of Hemphill's band on "The Hard Blues" from "Coon Bid'ness", as well as his work on the recently issued album of Mitchell's, "Old/Quartet". I used to mentally divide musicians into "dry" or "wet" and Wilson was the most liquid of drummers. I think it was a few years later that I realized I'd heard him earlier than I knew at the time: he was drumming with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band when they played Woodstock. In fact, it's a Wilson piece(co-authored with Gene Dinwiddie), "Love March" iirc, that's included on the original recording of the event.

I have a very fond memory of Phillip--I forget the group context but it was at Environ--in the midst of a rather furious solo at a climactic moment, bringing back his right arm to smash at the ride cymbal and stopping about an inch away for just a second or two, then continuing on elsewhere. I don't doubt that it wasn't the first time a drummer had exercised this gambit but it was my first exposure to same. The effect was magical: there was no sound but the sound you expected to hear was nonetheless experienced, if only in your head.

It was fairly obvious that Phillip had substance issues of various kinds. After Environ closed, I saw him around at shows once in a while, generally not looking so well. Still, it was a great shock to learn of the particulars of his violent death in 1992. Very sad. How dispiriting that I'm unable to find even a single photo of him on-line.

Deadline's "Down by Law" (Celluloid, 1985) seems to have been more or less a Wilson project, or as much as such a thing is possible with Laswell in tow. It's essentially an Afro-Beat manqué recording, "updating" the sound with the then-ubiquitous DMX machines, an effect that screams "1985" like no other. Less manqué than it might have been given the presence on three of the six cuts of Manu Dibango. Odd and Laswellian assortment of others including Bernie Worell, Steve Turre, Olu Dara (wielding his great wooden trumpet! Whatever happened to that? Where, for that matter, are all the reed trumpets? Who else aside from Eddie Harris and Rahsaan played them? You'd think they'd be around among all the young eai trumpeters....), Paul Butterfield hisself on harmonica on a track and Jaco on the same cut (I'm pretty sure his only appearance in my collection).

It's dated but kinda fun, The tracks plod a bit--necessarily given the electronic percussion--but they're catchy and funky, none more so than "Makossa Rock", with an insidiously gripping theme and some fine, fine Dara. Laswell produced a tone of things more or less along this line in the 80s; this might be one of the more effective, although in a light manner, the kind of thing you'd be pleasantly surprised to hear at some public function but, upon reflection, wouldn't be so out of place.

Just a bit hard to listen to, thinking about Mr. Wilson and what might have been.

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".

Friday, October 17, 2008

Trio Sowari - Shortcut (potlatch)

These fellows (Phil Durrant, Burkhard Beins and Bertrand Denzler) occupy a nice zone within eai, more scratchy than most, more nervous perhaps but never, in my experience, overbearing. They divide things in 13 cuts here, including five brief pieces at the start totaling about 3 1/2 minutes. Beins, the other evening, mentioned something about wanting the disc to unfurl in chapters, beginning with brief flashes, then expanding. Works very well. Hard (for me) to describe without going into more detail than I have tie for. Suffice it to say that Trio Sowari's particular blend is unique, tangy and unfailingly rewarding. Good stuff. potlatch

blanco estira nuestro (+), hermana Helice (Socrates Martinis) (entracte/absurd)

A 45rpm EP, constructed by Martinis, a young fellow I'm otherwise unaware of, using filed recordings and treatments. I know, I know, sounds like more of the same, but it's really good. Not sure of the sources here, but he's apparently done work with far off airplane sounds before and it's possible that resurfaces here. Steady, complex hums and wheezing, very aerated. More violent episodes punctuate parts of the piece ".oeur (S+C)", but generally it cruises along, picking up the odd scrape and enhanced rustle along the way. Nice work. More info here.

Who knew it was already time for an Isolationism revival? Ah, those Dark Ambient days of the early 90s, all threatening, metallic drones, sludgy Laswellian bottom, cavernous echoes, throbbing bass...Well, not much of the latter here, but the general tone brings those times to mind, though perhaps necessarily with less urgency. (btw, remember when AMM was included on that Isolationism double disc put out by Virgin?) The second track here, "Recurring Dream" gets some cool whizzing action going, but overall, the music's occupying a space that I find tough to drum up much interest for. Listeners pining for some 2008 Scorn or Namlook could do worse, though. topheth prophet

Toshiya Tsunoda - The Argyll Recordings (edition.t)

The first release on his own label, this one pretty much defies criticism, but it's....great? Dunno, but I enjoy having it on. Two discs, the first begins with four tracks that alternate between "ground" (presumably some wind, if little else) and grass (mics placed in windswept, tall grass), followed by two done at waterside. I take it Tsunoda employs some degree of manipulation after that fact, but damned if I know what. They're just there, pretty much impermeable to comment. The second disc is split into two equal halves. The first is fantastic, a "wire fence recording", which I gather is just that, in some amount of breeze and other atmospheres; sounds wonderful. The second half is a simple 440hz sine wave; each lasts about 27 minutes. I admit to being baffled as to the opposed parts. I guess one could imagine a kind of diptych where the left half is a rendering of some scene, the right a slab of pure color, though I can't quite understand why one would do so apart from attempting to prove some basic equivalency, kind of a humdrum idea. Anyone who has thoughts on this piece, please advise.


Tilbury's Cardew biography is finally in hand as of last evening. Only read through the acknowledgment and preface thus far, slavering for the rest. John's very formal in these portions, very much the genteel, polite individual, very much how he is in person. So, now I have my benchmark (*gulp*). Just give me a quarter-century....

On a lighter note, I'm having a ball reading Shalom Auslander's "Foreskin's Lament", a memoir about growing up in an Orthodox Jewish community in the 70s and 80s and subsequent trying to break free. Exceedingly funny and biting.

Monday, October 13, 2008

[photo: Yuko Zama]

Went to Listen Space in Williamsburg on Saturday, a nice, new-looking white room, for three sets of music. First up, Tucker Dulin (trombone) & Barry Weisblat (electronics). I'm partial to Barry's science experiment approach; it rarely gets too dry for me. His manipulation of small fluorescent tubes and (I'm guessing), their barely controllable reaction with the surrounding devices is fascinating on its own, for me. Whether it integrates with a musical cohort can be another matter and here, Dulin's trombone playing didn't do anything for me, a routine selection of extended techniques, often drone-oriented. Overall, not so satisfying except to the extent I concentrated on Barry's activity.

Dave Barnes and Richard Kamerman up next, the most enjoyable, engaging and thoughtful set of the night. Very difficult (for me) to really grasp while in progress, all to their credit. Kamerman takes the interesting tack of powering his equipment via small batteries and, indeed, makes the act of hooking them to his devices part of the performance. One of the things I most enjoyed was his habit of being matter-of-fact in the transparency of what he was doing. When he placed a metal plate on the board he used as a table, intended as a resonating surface for subsequent activity, the thwack of its placement was just as much a part of the sound. Taking more than a cue or two from Taku Unami, he placed one end of a metal rod on a vibrating engine (?) allowing the opposite end to caper over the board or metal, buzzing about under varying degrees of control. Vibrating surfaces of one kind or another made up the bulk of his goings on and provided something of a visual focus, enough so that Barnes' equally interesting noises, generated from a small mixing board, were too easy to lose track of; better to appreciate with eyes closed, probably. Either way, the music was spare and uncompromising, building "meaning" as it progressed, so when they stopped, I oddly had more understanding of the set as an entity than I had while it was occurring, a rare enough experience and a happy one. Good stuff.

Last up was the trio of Mike Bullock (bass, electronics), Jonathan Zorn (computer) and Bonnie Jones (open circuit electronics). I like Bullock's work that I've heard recently; he's a fine listener and an imaginative player. I enjoy Bonnie's work that I've heard, in its unusual combination of subtlety and rawness. But both of them were cast into somewhat hopeless roles due to Zorn's playing. He was apparently using a program called "supercollider" but whatever, there was no excuse for the kind of banal, ray-gun, bloopy sounds it emitted more often than not, making it all but impossible to listen to Bullock and Jones (which I nonetheless attempted to do). Really baffling, the level of insensitivity at play. Several times, they coalesced into very attractive zones, including the last several minutes, only to have Zorn inject some silly sound. (And no, I didn't get the impression that there was some kind of John White inference). Frustrating.

But these days, one outta three ain't bad.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Full, tiring day yesterday.

Went to the Metropolitan with Carol to see the fantastic Giorgio Morandi show. If anything, it's too large as Morandi's silvery, pearly whites and browns, not to mention his exceedingly subtle placement of objects, need to be viewed at leisure. Still, certain paintings stood out and it was enough to try to concentrate on those for a few minutes in the jostling crowd. More than anything, I was wowed by the late watercolors from the early 60s. Just amazing, like miniature Rothko's. Not too much on-line I could locate, but here's another:

Museum- or gallery-going is one of the worst things for my legs. The standing around and slow moving does a number on my lower muscles. But after the Met, we walked through the park and I helped Carol with some food shopping. Then, after we parted, I went and saw "Tell No One" across from Lincoln Center, a decent if slightly slick French thriller.

From there it was out to Issue Project Room in Brooklyn to see Polwechsel. After getting more lost than I've ever been in NYC and wandering around for over an hour (don't ask), my legs were threatening to depart my hips. But I finally got there, still before the show began. It was a short set and, given my state, I wasn't complaining. Three pieces, the first and third improvs, the middle by Martin Brandlmayr. The first two were fairly pointillist, sparse events generally using one extended technique or another, sometimes overly dry for my taste, occasionally coalescing into very beautiful segments. On the final work, they loosened up a bit, playing rather loudly and maybe taking a step toward efi, but I actually preferred this approach. I did find my attention being drawn by the percussionists, Brandlmayr with his absurd level of precision and Beins so imaginative and earthy in sound generation. Overall, OK, had its moments.

Nice to see some faces that I hadn't seen for a while, including Margarida Garcia and Mattin and very nice to meet Esther Venrooy.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Kassel Jaeger - ee[nd] (Mystery Sea)

I'm given to understand that there's no such person as "Kassel Jaeger", that it's a pseudonym of a sound engineer who works at the GRM studios. Whatever. This is a fantastic disc, swimming in lush, creaky, wet, shivery, extraordinarily dense matrices of sound, constructed in broad slabs with little narrative arc, as though sliced from a much larger "loaf". The last track in particular, "infra", is exceptionally strong, a wooly, bracing ride that leaves bruises. Limited to 100 copies at mystery sea

Christopher McFall - This Heat Holds Snow (Mystery Sea)

In several senses, not so dissimilar from the Jaeger, but both subtler and a tad less immediately engaging but probably as ultimately potent. McFall has released several strong discs in recent years and this one fits in well, utilizing field recordings with who-knows-what else, forming bleak, windswept soundscapes that might not immediately wow, but steadily work their way under one's skin. Another very good recording from McFall. Also limited to 100 copies at mystery sea

Michael Rodgers - curtained moon (black petal)

[if an image exists of this release, I canna find it]

From what I've heard of his work in the last couple of years, Rodgers has been moving in an increasingly tonal, "traditional" direction. What's interesting is that this move, obviously, is informed by the more overtly avant music he'd earlier created. That influence is more subtle than it is overt; the casual listener will pick up more Robbie Basho than Rowe but that, of course, is fine. For all that Rodgers allows the street sounds of London to seep in around the edges and sometimes dominate, the music has more affinity with late Fahey than anything else. Rodgers has his own melodic conception though, one that's very enchanting--even sweet--, very personal and altogether very tasty. black petal