Sunday, April 27, 2008

There are people who seem to possess an inherent musicality, something in them that causes virtually everything they do to manifest as "musical". In jazz, Monk is often so cited ("He even walks musical"), an assessment with which I agree. For myself, another has always been Don Cherry. It's as though melody is coursing through his
veins. However far he ranged, however blistering or abstract his playing, there was always, at least up to a certain point, a sense of song there. One of my favorite musicians.

I believe I only saw him perform three times. The first was at the old Kitchen, on Wooster and Grand, I guess around '76, in a loose knit band with his wife Moki on tambura (I think) and two or three others I can't quite remember, possibly Frank Lowe among them. Maybe Badal Roy? In fact, if you're still reading here Mark Forman, I think this concert was where we first met, which would place it around October of '76.

Saw Cherry with Ornette in the summer of '77 at Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center, an amazing "double bill" with the Cherry/Redman/Haden/Blackwell quintet first, then Prime Time.

The last time was not so pleasant, a quartet date at a short-lived club on Houston St. called "Spiral", sometime in the mid 80s. Cherry was apparently in the midst of one of his bouts with heroin and was spaced out to the extreme, seemingly having little idea where he was, what was going on. Bob Stewart was with him on tuba (and was spectacular). There was a guitarist (I don't remember who) and a last-minute, young drummer who was clueless.

Playing through my Cherry vinyl, I begin with the two Mu sessions, two of the few original Actuel LPs I own (I have earlier Cherry, but on on disc). They still stand out for a kind of rawness, a real in-your-face recording quality that's very bracing. Great playing, of course (Blackwell, with Roach, still my favorite jazz drummer), wonderfully wide-ranging. I'm pretty sure these discs were my first exposure to the compositions of Dollar Brand.

"Eternal Rhythm" remains my favorite recording under Cherry's name and, imho, one of the finest jazz records of the 60s. Wild, absurdly far-reaching from gamelan to the blues, awesome work by Sharrock and Karl Berger, an olio that has no business working but does so beautifully. More thoughts in my AllMusic write up here.

Side One of "Relativity Suite" is just about as good, a gorgeous mini-suite that features some tremendous Cherry vocals (he's really one of my fave vocalists in jazz) and the sublime "Desireless", surely one of the loveliest melodies in the music. That wonderful rhythm in the 2nd section...The second side's more of a mixed bag but not bad at all, nice Bley piano and rousing Blackwell to finish up. Is this still not available on disc? iirc, Joe McPhee participated in rehearsals for this but couldn't make the recording date, a shame.

I have "Orient" as a double LP on Affinity (can't locate an image--currently available on disc with a cover showing an ant walking around a yellow fruit or lemon drop) though I think it's shown up in various guises. The first disc is a trio date from 1972 with Han Bennink and Moki Cherry. They begin with a version of "Desireless" then go out from there, a bit ragged but much fun. It's kind of a mess but Cherry was responsible for some glorious messes and that musicality and engaging spirit almost always carries the day. The other disc is from a concert with Okay Tamiz and the great Johnny Dyani. Should have been more Cherry/Dyani collaborations, two supremely musical fellows.

I think the album I have titled "Tibet" (on Picc-a-dilly) has also been issued elsewhere under different names--currently available combined with "Eternal Now"--recorded around '74, I think with Don Cherry (piano, percussion); Christer Bothen (piano); Bernt Rosengren (taragot); Agneta Ernstrom (tibetan bell, etc); Bengt Berger (piano, mridangam, etc). Good record, Cherry venturing out into areas even further removed from jazz, not playing trumpet at all, despite the cover photo. "Bass Figure for Ballatune" is a pretty amazing piece for pounded piano a la an especially vociferous Terry Riley.

Mighty big jump, chronologically as well as stylistically, to the next and final Cherry vinyl in the house, 1988's "Art Deco". Pretty widely heralded at the time for dopey reasons--Cherry coming back to the mainstream, showing those young lions a thing or two. It's smooth, accomplished and more than a bit bland. Nice quartet with James Clay on tenor, Haden and Higgins, Cherry's trumpet work is quite pure though lacking the passion of his best playing. Overall, I found the effort disappointing though I imagine, or hope, that the deal with A&M got him a bit of money. Some of his subsequent discs, particularly "Home Boy" & much of "Multikulti" were dreadful.

But overall a unique and wonderful musician. In peak form, probably no one I'd rather hear on trumpet. Thanks, Mr. Cherry.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

I set foot on Staten Island for the third time in my life today. Staten Island, for those unaware, is a borough of New York City, one of five, though in virtually every respect--geographically, culturally, architecturally--it's part of New Jersey. There's an old neighborhood, St. George, near where the Staten Island Ferry docks after its trip from lower Manhattan, that retains vestiges of New York. The rest of the island, which is quite sizable, consists largely of private, middle-class houses--large and flimsily built--, many trees, strip malls and the world's most voluminous landfill.

I came here on a group trip when I was about 15, ostensibly to watch a Wagner College football game in the freezing, damp cold, ending up gallivanting around the campus with my friend Mike and two girls from Long Island we met at the field. (Now there's a memory that's remained undredged for many a year!)

About 15 years ago, my friend David and I biked to the ferry from the Upper West Side, took it over to Staten Island and toured the place, a fairly extensive, for me, ride of about 60 miles total. There are parts of it, when you get to the higher hills, where you think you might be in the Catskill Mountains, unpaved roads winding off into the thick woods, dead quiet, etc.

That's not where I was today.

A month or so back, Kurt Gottschalk contacted me, asking if I'd participate in a project, a realization of John Cage's "49 Waltzes for the Five Boroughs", written in 1977 and, as near as he could determine, only ever performed once. I knew the event was taking place but didn't for a moment think it appropriate to contribute. However, the score for the work instructs an individual to go to one of 147 designated locations (49 groups of three) and "do something". Kurt thought I could write about what I experienced there, particularly the sounds heard. Well, how could I refuse?

Being a Cage piece, I randomly generated a number between 1 and 49, garnering 26. Kurt had asked that, if possible, participants try to choose points on Staten Island as takers for those slots were likely to be harder to find. Having a car and easily able to approach from the Jersey side, I chose the one one of three possibilities so situated and come to find myself at the intersection of Richmond and Katan Avenues, settling in to write about what I hear, which I shall now proceed to do....


(later that same evening)

Nice day. The results of this endeavor will be posted at at some future date. As far as I know, people played music, made field recordings, videos, etc. Not sure if anyone else simply observed.

One amusing thing, in a dopey way, is that when I came home, I realized I'd misread my location! Staten Island is known, technically, as Richmond County and the address was listed as "Katan Ave. and Ridgewood Ave. (Richmond)" which I senilely read as "Richmond Ave." which, in fact, exists. Turns out I was four blocks away from the proper point. Ah well, nothing wrong with a bit o' randomness....

It was a purely residential neighborhood with no convenient sitting place on any of the four corners. I'd found an elementary school a couple blocks away with a nice set of stairs and almost substituted that but figured I'd play it straight. One of the odd things was that, for all the extensive car traffic, there were virtually zero pedestrians. People don't walk there, apparently. I counted two in an hour and could often look up and down Richmond, about 1/2 mile of straight road, and see absolutely no one on the sidewalks.

Very enjoyable undertaking though. I do a reasonable amount of "Cageian" listening in the normal course of things, not as much as I might but more, I daresay, than your average Joe. But it's different when you're constrained to do so for an extended period and, more, to write about it. You concentrate better, or at least I do. It's be nice to have that level of clarity at all times. Maybe some do.

Drove back into Manhattan to meet up with other participants at the north end of Madison Square Park, beneath the statue of Chester Alan Arthur, exchanging stories from around the boroughs. While in Staten Island, one of the nice, almost giddy sensations was knowing that 48 [it turned out, 61] other people were engaged in some tangentially related activity at the same time, elsewhere in New York. Something rather comforting in that.

When the results are posted, I'll let people know.

Thanks, Mr. Cage!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Ingar Zach was kind enough to send me copy of the new ECM release, Dans les Arbres, on which he plays with Xavier Charles (clarinet), Ivar Grydeland (prepared banjo) and Christian Wallumrod (piano).

A digression into my ECM history--I was a pretty early fan, coming into the label shortly after it was launched, mostly due to its presence in the New Music Distribution Service catalog in the early 70s. Maybe the first thing I picked up was the Music Improvisation Company album, entirely because of Jamie Muir's being there (I was still listening to Crimson at the time), giving me my first taste of Bailey and Evan Parker circa 1973 or '74. Was pretty well hooked for a few years thereafter, including (gulp) the first Jarrett solo albums (I still like "Facing You", dammit), early Garbarek, etc. I place the initial appearance of what would become known as "the ECM sound" (more an approach than a sound, maybe) with something like Garbarek's "Dansere" or Eberhard Weber's miserably titled, "The Colours of Chloe". It was apparent in the late 70s, somewhat assuaged by the adoption of the Art Ensemble, Reich, etc.

But by and by, I began ignoring the label as such, making the occasional purchase when an individual release warranted it. Over the last five or so years, I don't imagine I've bough more than two or three. I think the last may have been Marilyn Crispell's take on Annette Peacock (partially successful, imho).

Anyway, aside from an interest in what Charles has been up to and usually enjoying Ingar's work, I was curious if the ECM aesthetic was still in force, still tending to dominate a recording.

Well, yes and no. "Dans les Arbres" is a pleasant enough album, at a couple of points (the two longest tracks) emerging into the richly enjoyable. It's moody (the track titles, if my French serves me well, allude to various aspects of ennui), the textures have a watercolor-ish air even as they refer to Cage's prepared piano works. But there is a slight scrim over the music, a bit of the ol' gauze the label's known for. Maybe I'm bringing in past prejudices, but I did want to hear a sharper projection, a little more of the rough and tumble that surfaces briefly when Charles gets combative. A good record and I'm guessing a damn sight better than much that ECM issues these days, but I'd be curious to hear the same quartet on a different label.

Mathieu Saladin - 4'33"/0'00" - As everyone and their brother know by now, a reworking ("amplification maximum") of the Gianni-Emilio Simonetti recording of the Cage work, originally issued on Cramps in 1974. Well, pretty good I guess, especially when played loud. The variation you can pick out is interesting the effect (almost automatically) assaultive and overwhelming. Curious how much of the noise is vinyl-related, how much purely from the ambient sounds in the original situation (I haven't heard the Cramps LP). Nice idea anyway. Amused to see a price of 4.33 euros on the back of the sleeve....

An LP on Simple Geometry from Tetuzi Akiyama and Jeffrey Allport, containing two sidelong improvisations. Widely spaced guitar twangs and other sounds (the latter from Allport, I assume), with abundant ambient noise. Nice and relaxed, very casual. Not gripping, especially, but then, I doubt it's intended to be. Totally fine to leave on in the background and let blend with your neighborhood.

Friday, April 18, 2008

I've never been the biggest fan of Chadbourne (as a musician--I really enjoy his reviews on All Music, think they're among the best at that site). I remember seeing him at Environ around 1977, I think with Zorn, Polly Bradfield and a few others, maybe David Moss. He had his rake out. But in the early 80s, I picked up a few records, enjoying some aspects, not others. He's one of a sizable number of musicians who I'd prefer hearing perform straight than out, in Chadbourne's case tending to mean doing covers of folk and country favorites. His political rantings, well-intentioned though they may be, tend to be painfully shallow, obvious and naive, especially when set against, say, a Phil Ochs song. He's more Roger Miller than Ochs. Plus the fact that he's a dead ringer for the primordial grandmother.

The lo-tech approach was pretty cool then and still has its charms--abrupt edits, crappy sound, etc. "Country Music from Southeastern Australia" is the out-est of this bunch, humorously packaged as an ethnic field recording and vacillating between C&W wannabee songs and random noise. David Moss, Rik Rue and Jon Rose accompany. It's kinda fun; I could imagine hanging out in some seedy barroom, enjoying these guys farting about, chuckling at the lowbrow humor, immediately forgetting it on the way home.

"Country Protest" (surprised there's not a larger image around) is slicker, Chadbourne employing some traditional players, and it works reasonably well. This is from 1986 and you can hear the kind of ADD collage that Zorn would shortly pursue in the opening medley which, over 11 minutes, includes 14 pieces, among them "A Whiter Shade of Pale", "Misty", "To Sir with Love" and "The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey's Grave". His cover of Ochs' "When I'm Gone" is as stirring as his original, "Perverts on Northridge", is puerile.

Lastly is his collaboration with members of The Violent Femmes, "Corpses of Foreign Wars". For my money, the best of the three, maybe not coincidentally the most rockish. Still mucho annoying in spots, sophomoric to the extreme, but the Ochs medley that closes the album (Outside a Small Circle of Friends/White Boots Marching in a Yellow Land/I'm Gonna Say It Now) is my single favorite Chadbourne performance in my very limited listening, very strong.

Still, I gave up after this, around 1987.

For good measure, let's include an entirely obscure piece of vinyl, one which I'm not surprised at all to be unable to find an image of, Jose Chalas' "Living on Avenue F", recorded in 1986-87 for Sunjump Records. Mid-80s, Lower East Side jazz rock, notable for containing one of Dave Douglas' earliest appearances on record (also features a group photo on the back showing Douglas resplendent in a full head of wavy hair, kinda funny). Jim Mussen, a drummer who worked a bunch with Elliott Sharp, is also on hand. Chalas plays guitar; the music isn't awful but is rather forgettable, a bit of electric Miles, funk, DX-7 sounds; almost coulda been a Laswell production. Don't think I ever heard of Chalas again.


New Books:

Thomas Bernhard - Frost
Alan Licht - Sound Art
Nathan Dunne (ed.) - Tarkovsky

Monday, April 14, 2008

An unholy mess but, in large part, a goofily, sometime brilliantly enjoyable one. Fifty or so musicians, under Keith TIppett's direction, Fripp in the control room, splayed over two LPs, mostly in free jazz mode but with nods to rock and folk. Something of a Who's Who in London jazz and prog on those three days in June of 1971, although notably without anyone from the Bailey/Parker/Stevens (aside from Paul Rutherford) axis (much less AMM). But you have the South Africans Pukwana, Feza and Miller, a few Soft Machine-ites, Maggie Nichols, Julie Tippetts and many more.

There's a lot of bluster, too much I suppose, but the piece trundles along gamely, pausing for some lovely moments like the vocal/violin/bass section at the close of Side One, as hippily pretty as you could want. The Pukwana/Stabbins feature on the rockish portion beginning Side Two is jaunty and fun then careens into a proto-metal riff that's just charming in its innocent strutting. The string of solos that follows is fine though unexceptional (Alan Skidmore's tenor run is rather strong and heartfelt) and the rhythm section slogs things down a bit, but the anthem that closes out the projects first half remains as stirring as ever. This is probably the point I began falling in love with Julie Tippetts.

Things begin to fall apart somewhat on Sides Three and Four. A march with an intriguing melody but Crimsonesquely plodding rhythm swells in volume to levels that engender murderous reactions in spouses but to no great effect other than loudness. A rather inchoate free section follows; not too bad but formless. Most of the last side is given over to a kind of Mingusian theme that segues into a lilting section that might work save for the three drummers stumbling over one another. Nice saxello work from the late Elton Dean. A chorus enters to chant the naive but inoffensive lyrics, perhaps leftover from some Peoples Liberation Music event. This section stumbles on for an ungodly length of time whilst (that's for Pinnell) the horns have at it way back in the mix. There's a fake fade-out then the vocals meander back in. It closes unexpectedly, and pretty nicely, with a duo of Charig and Tippett.

Unwieldy as hell but with enough bright spots and an obvious abundance of enthusiasm to recommend it.

(btw, always enjoyed the images of those bottles. Was that technique--coating a clear glass bottle with pigment on the inside then affixing an pic on the exterior--in vogue at some time? I don't recall seeing it elsewhere, though it's attractive enough)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Christopher McFall was responsible for a good record last year on entr'acte and here's another on Gears of Sand, "Solemn Words for a Fabled Apparatus". I'm still at something of a loss to quantify how one criticize field recordings except, obviously, insofar as one can detect the degree of construction that takes place on the part of the assembler. Even then, it likely is at least something to do with how one does it oneself, that is, how one organizes ambient sound when in a situation where one is thinking about it, say, standing on a street corner listening to what's going on. In any case, I get the sense McFall has done quite a bit of post-recording organizing here--there's more than a whiff of Ferrari--and I like what I hear. It's full, curvy, a-bubble with sounds that seem, more often than not, to derive from air, fire and hums (as opposed to clatter of one kind or another). Almost as enjoyable as doing it oneself. Good work. gears of sand

There are things that baffle me. Groups like Happy House, for instance. Presumably named after the Ornette tune, the quartet (Olivier Benoit/guitar, Julien Favreuille/saxophone, Nicolas Mahieux/bass, Jean-Luc Landsweerdt/drums) doesn't sound like Prime Time, which would be anachronistic enough, but instead sounds like a recreation of early Jan Garbarek, even earlier than the fine ECM bands, I'm talking Esoteric Circle from about 1967 (especially the Rypdalian guitar). Now that was an excellent group and what Happy House does, I guess you could say it does well, but to what purpose? Flashy, muscular, proto-jazz rock 40 years after the fact. Interesting question why Esoteric Circle remains very easy to listen to while this is a chore, but...that's the case. circum-disc

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Berlin Electronics (absinth)
absinth (with Michael Renkel at the helm, from what I understand) returns to the 4-mini disc release format, though in a 5x7 inch packaging. Within which, unfortunately, the discs are overlaid in pairs, two by two and then, when the envelope is folded, atop each other. In my case, this resulted in the surface of one disc adhering to the little nubbin holding another across the way and removed a few square millimeters of CD surface, rendering the disc unplayable. So I don't know what Andrea Ermke's music sounds like. Nice hand-painted covers in indigo encaustic, though.

Two of the others, those by Gilles Aubry and Ignaz Schick, didn't do much for me either, the former consisting of computer-generated sound occupying feedback-y territory and the latter, from someone whose work I've enjoyed in the past, combines "naive" sounds (flute tones, jungle-y thing) with electronics in a gauzy, kind of insubstantial manner that never connected for me. Both are OK but didn't really leave much of an impression.

The saving Grace is Annette Krebs' "Untitled III variations/Excerpt" (Couldn't locate a cover image on-line, hence the pic of Annette above). Her sense of structure almost always syncs up well with my own so that juxtapositions which, objectively, I might consider "awkward" or jarring seem to possess some elusive naturalness that I find fascinating to attempt (unsuccessfully) to unravel the whys and wherefores of. This one features a rather disparate sequence of sound elements, sometimes overlapping but more often one after another, kind of like an array of objects on a table, allowing the viewer/listener to make connection or not. For me, it works quite beautifully and, at 15 minutes, is of perfect length.

Been playing "The Breadwinner" a bunch over the last couple of weeks as well. It's a really strong recording, certainly one of the best things I've heard this year. Almost automatically, though unfairly, I mentally pair it with "Salmon Run" (I do hear it as a bit more Lambkin than Lescalleet for whatever reasons). They each have different virtues. "Breadwinner" is solider, more viscous. The earlier release is stranger, more oneiric. On a given day, I prefer one to the other. But there's not a weak track on the disc, a very fine release.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Was thinking about Rackstraw Downes this afternoon. Don't know that I've mentioned him here before but he's a big favorite of mine among contemporary painters. Born in 1939 in England (where else would he come upon an incredible name like that?), he began as an abstract-expressionist but in the mid 60s veered into a very idiosyncratic kind of realism. His paintings, both in reproduction and in life, often don't look like so much at first glance. Well enough done, but that's about it. Until you begin to see a couple of unique attributes. One is his use of multiple perspectives in a single scene. I wish there were better examples available on-line--if anyone knows, please fill me in--but often his landscapes have a wide enough aspect to require his point of view to change several times getting from the left to right edge. So you get a kind of arcing effect, including a bending of the horizon. It's something that hit home to me as I did similar experiments at Vassar, for instance doing a studio interior on a largish sheet of paper, beginning by drawing something on the far wall small enough that the top and bottom of the page would require that I look almost straight up and down. Very hard to accomplish and Downes, needless to say, pulls it off with far more subtlety than I.

The other, not always in evidence, is that one can discern, by observing shadows in the painting, that there are several hours worth of observation in play, the vertical umbrae splaying out at different angles. This plus the fine sense of air he imbues, imparts a unique kind of life into his landscapes and cityscapes.

I also love his choice of subject matter which tends toward the "mundane" and "featureless":

He did a few in Jersey City as well, at least one I can remember from underneath the Turnpike extension at Newark Ave., a great location indeed.

Last saw a show of his maybe two or three years ago in Chelsea which had a few striking works. Check him out if you get the chance.



Lucretius - On the Nature of the Universe (Sisco recommendation)
Sebald - Austerlitz
Chomsky - On Anarchism