Wednesday, December 13, 2006

vaya con dios

Off to warmer southern climes in a couple of days so Stochasticactus goes silent for about two weeks. I'll miss every single one of you with great pangs of sadness tempered by monumental denial and beachside gloating. Bennie Maupin's spacey Ensenada will be on the car's CD player. The un and I toy with outlandish fantasies of never returning. Sure, Mexico has stolen elections just like here, but think of the cache resulting from being the white guy who "launched the Mexican improvisational music scene." (i.e., *stole* from the many fine Mexican musicians who are no doubt already launching all sorts of shit about which we have no clue....)

Thanks to Bagatellen's alert, I've visited Church Number 9 and Nothing Is, amazing sites offering complete album downloads of hard-to-find improvisational music. The only item I took the time to snag, for now, is Andrew Cyrille/Milford Graves, Dialogue of the Drums. My late friend Greg Kidd (who played trumpet in the first group I was ever in, 33 years ago at age 12)had a vinyl copy of this that we listened to after sharing some "mind expanding" substance, 23 years ago on a hot summer night in south Philadelphia. Somehow the album led to a marathon walk involving the Mummer's Museum and the catwalk over the Ben Franklin Bridge just until the Jersey line. You know how it is: "hey, let's walk to New Jersey!" har har. It's good to hear it again.

In other news, the arts/music community (and the rest of the community as well) here pulls together to support vocalist/composer/improvisor and bruja, Molly Sturges, diagnosed with tongue cancer last week. She and her husband Chris and daughter Quinn are already in Houston seeking the best oncologists in the West. Prayers and energies (and money) are needed and emerging from this small town's circles. There's a blog that will have occasional updates. Also on the blog eventually will be ways to support Molly and Chris as they deal with the realities of Molly's treatment.

Not to change the subject, but happy holidays. Is there anything worse than Christmas "jazz," by the way? Don't go there! Nat King Cole, sure. And remember: the best things in life and art are free....

Sunday, December 10, 2006

art of the imitators

The thought-provoking and unrelentingly honest blog, not mean if true continues to challenge my overly facile views regarding influence, imitation and originality, related to improvised music. One thing is for certain, and that is that I have long held an unexamined opinion that *originality* is the hallmark of worthiness (if not always "greatness") in improvised music. As a listener I'm constantly "measuring" originality by a very simple test-- can I tell who is playing and is it distinct? Simple on the surface of things. Listening to the radio Friday I heard some big band music, a really terrible arrangement of Old Man River, and I knew it was either Louis Bellson or Mel Lewis on the drums. Turned out to be Mel Lewis with the Bill Holman big band. Just terrible music. But I have a lot of respect for Mel Lewis. Is this merely because I can pick him out, and so I have the opportunity to reconfirm my "special knowledge" when I hear him?

One of the mysteries lately for me is finding that I can hear influences within the playing of the musicians I admire, but their playing is not flatly *imitative*. The generosity of spirit in great musicians is such that the influences are welcomed without resistance, it seems. Perhaps because there is the basic faith/knowledge that the kernel of individuality will not be tainted or sullied somehow by the embrace.

Also instructive was hearing Sonny Rollins with Donald Bailey and Pete LaRoca Sims instead of Wilbur Ware and Elvin Jones, from the Night at the Village Vanguard sessions. I wanted to hear Ware and Jones throughout the version of Night in Tunisia. Typically we say something like "Jones/Ware was a "better" rhythm section on those dates..." and leave it at that. Lately I have been working at digging more. I was surprised also to find myself thinking "what a terrible choice of material for Rollins to try out in that trio format...Night in Tunisia is a total set up. Softly as in a Morning Sunrise and other tunes work much better." Still don't know where that came from, really.

Which also reminds me of unquestioningly embracing Money Jungle, the trio with Duke, Mingus and Roach, and later reading the Miles Davis Blindfold Test where Feather puts that recording on and Davis goes ballistic about what a ridiculous idea the whole thing was, and how record producers should be shot.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

acquiring minds want to know

Been out and about too much lately to post, but there's been a certain amount of reflection, again spurred largely by Reading Jazz. My experience of almost the entire criticism section of that book was one of sustained outrage. More about that later.

On the recorded music front, a recent trip to the huge metropolis of Albuquerque resulted in my picking up the Arista Freedom double album by Dave Burrell, High Won-High Two, from 1968 with Sirone and Sunny Murray as well as Bobby Kapp on drums and Pharoah Sanders on...tambourine. Something odd about that. Anyway I have only listened to the West Side Story medley and I'm reminded again of how much is going on with Burrell, a player with whom I only have had passing familiarity. I saw him with David Murray and Andrew Cyrille and Amiri Baraka many years ago and was struck by the uniquely pianistic approach to phrasing and the deceptively "light" sounding touch/attack. I look forward to learning more.

I also picked up George Russell's Living Time Orchestra Blue Note record from 1983, The African Game. I've only given that one listen and I have no idea yet what I feel or really what I'm hearing. There are unfortunate and all-too-facile associations that leap up (in particular, echoes of television cop show soundtracks) and these are definitely unwanted associations. All in all, it's great to be experiencing music from both Burrell and Russell that expands the concept for me even further, a frequent recent experience.

The great windfall is a result of a friend of mine (the beginning of our friendship was playing in a trio when I was 12 years old, 33 years ago, tunes like Walk, Don't Run and Delta Dawn) transferring his vinyl to digital and offering to ship the vinyl to me. He sent me a four page list of such a huge variety of recordings, many of which fill in serious gaps in both my listening and my library. So after the holidays are blessedly over I'll be getting the best Christmas present I could imagine, probably about 80 albums or so, only a few of which are replacements for vinyl that I have but that's unplayable. He was more thorough than I over the years in getting a broader historical perspective so there's a significant amount of Bix, Fletcher Henderson and Duke. But there's also a Marion Brown solo album, for example, that I've never heard of, etc.

On the live music front, the inspiring and surreal and deeply moving Tatsuya Nakatani blew through town and I managed to catch his solo set at High Mayhem. This indirectly led to reconnecting with Gary Hassay who was a central figure in my musical experience in 1979-1980 in Allentown, PA. Nakatani is based in Easton PA and it turns out he's in a trio with Hassay. Hassay is still going strong and I'm looking forward to getting some of his recordings for possible air play on the radio show. Also, I'll be pitching a profile of Nakatani to a percussion mag or other publication in the next week or two.

The most extraordinary aspect for me about Nakatani's art is the complete reconfiguration of the trap set, despite its traditional (though stripped down)set up. On a technical note, I'd love to know how he gets such a warm, basso profundo tone out of his tiny bass drum. Anyway the overall aesthetic effect was trancelike, otherworldly, both beautiful and somewhat daunting. The use of metal (cymbals, bowls, metal wire beaters, gongs, bells, ratchety coils) in combination with the membrane of the drums (and Nakatani's "blowing" against the snare head, creating banshee wails and screeches) coalesces into a sound somehow simultaneously primal and ethereal. Nakatani's relationship to his materials allows for startling chance events, especially in his arrangements of bowls on either floor tom or the snare, sometimes muffled with a towel underneath and sometimes naked, either ringing against other bowls or not. The placement, especially of his largest bowl on the floor tom, also allows for constant swaying of the bowl itself, which creates a rolling, washing sound. His use of the bow is masterful. It was the kind of performance where I wanted the sound first and so closed my eyes often, but then absolutely could not help myself and would gawk again, wondering what the hell is that and how does he do it?

Finally, I'm hoping I can still get tickets for Public Enemy, playing a few blocks from where I live this Friday. Yeah, Public Enemy. Santa Fe is so very odd.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

story ville

The previously mentioned Reading Jazz, edited by Robert Gottlieb, has me up late in what has turned into absorbing the book from cover to cover, which at roughly 1,100 pages is somewhat ridiculous. But the great fact that is emerging from the Reportage and Criticism sections is perhaps somewhat best summed up by two quotes. "To the outsider, the aggressiveness with which the aficionados of one school of jazz attack another school may appear silly, a tempest in a teapot. It is far from this. Beneath the surface it is a defense, whether well- or ill-advised, of an attitude toward life." (William Grossman, Jazz Review, 1956). "After all these years, I find myself unable to avoid an unhappy conclusion: jazz criticism is a bad idea, poorly executed." (Orrin Keepnews, 1987)

For the moment, I'm still reaching for a broader understanding of the culture wars of the 1940's:

Leonard Feather's writing about the Esquire jazz polls of the mid-40s and the uproar between the "moldy figs" and the "progressives," yet another reminder that the lines were clearly drawn in the years before bop, even though it is now the fashion to point to jazz controversy as first arising with Parker, Gillespie, Monk. The black vs. white lines were clearly drawn as well. Here's a quote from Feather talking about the reaction to the first Esquire poll in 1943 in The Jazz Record, a specialty publication co-edited by white pianist Art Hodes: "But the most memorable statement was (the writer's) complaint that Joe Stacy, Joe Sullivan, and Art Hodes received only four, three, and two votes respectively. 'These men,' he wrote, 'are the three greatest small-band piano men on wax. To mention Art Tatum in the same gasp with them is blasphemous!'" Another quote from the same article: "If this isn't inverted Jim Crow, what is?"

The winners in 1943 (who went on to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House) were: Louis Armstrong, Teagarden, Goodman, Hawkins, Tatum, Al Casey, Pettiford, Catlett, Red Norvo and Lionel Hampton, Billie Holiday and Artie Shaw. The second place winners were Cootie Williams, Lawrence Brown, Barney Bigard, Johnny Hodges, Earl Hines, Oscar Moore, Milt Hinton, Al Morgan, Cozy Cole, Leo Watson, Mildred Bailey, saxophonist Willie Smith and Dave Tough.

So these are the musicians signifying something catastrophic, impure, degenerate or at least questionable to an entire camp of jazz writers who seemed to have seen jazz's salvation at the time in Eddie Condon and Wild Bill Davidson. Is it any wonder that when Bird and Dizzy et al were heard, a very few short years later, the reaction was what it was?

Also, coincidentally I just bought a copy of the recording of the concert at the Metropolitan in 1944, originally produced by the US Army and only available on shellac V-Discs. My first few listens reveal that something was going on among these highly disparate musicians within the supposed confines of...whatever genre they were supposed to be confined by. Partly I'm sure it's the "jam session" atmosphere, partly the "superband" syndrome, just too many voices trying to get heard. But even beyond these circumstantial reasons, I hear a music definitely in transition already. It's struggling with two competing organizing principles, for one thing (perhaps three): collective improvisation versus comping behind the individual soloist. The intense irony is that the radio announcer insists on saying the name of the individual soloists while they are playing, in the manner of a sports broadcast. The third conflicting strain on the efforts of the musicians is the "swing" style itself, which lends a kind of war-time desperation and frantically happy, happy, happy (who put the benzedrine in Mrs. Murphy's Ovaltine?) energy. There's more concatenating throughout the proceedings, including strange versions of "the blues," highly divergent instrumental styles, and probably more that I'm not even aware of.

Yet there are revealing moments from individual musicians. Lionel Hampton's extended solo over Flying Home is most amazing for the intense presence of his vocalizations, especially in the rests between his phrases. (Compare with Cecil Taylor's, on for example, The Great Concert of, Side 3, or less pleasantly, with Jarrett). Are there shades of bop already emerging from Hawk and Tatum? Absolutely. Could there be any starker contrast than that between Billie Holiday singing "I'll Get By" and Mildred Bailey "singing" "Squeeze Me"?

It's a terrible stew, really, and I can see why the moldy figs had an opening to be aghast, but only now that I am listening with an awareness of the turf wars and infighting that had everyone up in arms. What I heard before this was quaint, occasionally brilliant, energetic, but hearing with bop-through-21st Century ears meant feeling grateful that the music soon found more consolidated and "sophisticated" organizing principles. I have too often bought hook, line and sinker the "official" stories of whatever jazz is, and, lately, every time I turn around, I'm encountering new awareness of a much broader and much more messy picture.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

up to your boobies in white satin

"You can be up to your boobies in white satin, with gardenias in your hair and no sugar cane for miles, but you can still be working on a plantation." (Billie Holiday, Lady Sings the Blues).

Jazz books on the floor next to my bed currently include Reading Jazz, edited by Robert Gottlieb and Visions of Jazz by Gary Giddins, as well as Ted Reed's Progressive Steps to Syncopation, which I keep returning to over and over to find new ways to apply the studies not only to drumset work but music and composition in general.

Reading Jazz is a remarkable anthology heavily weighted toward the mainstream but still stuffed full of great material. The autobiographical section ranges from Jelly Roll Morton and Sidney Bechet to Cecil Taylor and others. The Cecil piece is from Len Lyons' 1983 book, The Great Jazz Pianists, and Gottlieb's comment says something like "sometimes the life of an interviewer is a difficult one." I suspect this is meant with a dash of humor and as a tongue in cheek commentary on Taylor's apparently combative and argumentative responses, but truly, although you can tell he's trying, Lyons' questions are superficial and idiotic. How little must the man have known about Taylor to begin his interview with "What approach did you use for developing finger dexterity, and what would you recommend that younger pianists do in that regard?" Not only does he open with that absolutely inconsequential question, but he persists doggedly. This is Lyons making his own life difficult.

It's also representative of a thread that keeps winding through these autobiographical texts, which is a white attitude that is clearly condescending, racist, patronizing and unconciously or blatantly infantilizing. The position of the artist in America, let alone the black artist, is laid bare repeatedly and it's ugly.

Giddins' compilation of short essays is a wonder to behold by comparison. Yes, it leans a bit toward hagiography at times, but his respect is welcome even if it borders on reverence. Giddins is so obviously a fan of the whole spectrum of genres and approaches, and in particular it's a lovely experience to read articulate and knowledgeable insights into the work of musicians as disparate as Budd Johnson and Roscoe Mitchell.

Acquisitive jazz slut that I am, I recently snagged Randy Weston's latest (at 80 years old!), Zep Tepi, as well as the odd Impulse reissue that combines Taylor's Into the Hot pieces (Pots, Bulbs, Mixed)with Roswell Rudd's Everywhere session. Every time I hear Weston I want to hear more, and it's too bad that I somehow managed to miss his work along the way. I only gave Taylor's sessions for Gil Evans a cursory listen when I was younger, largely because I had already been absolutely riveted by Indent, Silent Tongues, Dark to Themselves, 3 Phasis, etc. and too quickly dismissed Taylor's early work as unformed and quaint. With fresh ears these Taylor originals are absolutely mind blowing and yet again mark a whole range of possibilities that Taylor perhaps left behind too quickly. (That's my greed talking). There's something lush and humid about his orchestrations, the song forms, the dense and usually not reiterative themes. Amazing that Ted Curson was working with Mingus at the time. I wonder what he thought working his way through Taylor's Mixed?Not because it is different from the Mingus workshop, but because it launches off of so many similar strategies. (It's also instructive to hear Sunny Murray on these recordings; his odd 5/4 boogaloo beat, his leanings toward the concept he'd plunge into quite soon after).

Roswell Rudd is one of those rare musicians who intuitively understands sound. The trombone is a perfect fit for the man's ears and soul. My first impressions of the Impulse session is that it's unfortunate he wasn't surrounded by heavier players. Charlie Haden is too far behind Lewis Worrell in the mix and I don't get grabbed by Guiseppi Logan and Robin Kenyatta, really. I just want to hear Beaver Harris and Roswell Rudd do duets.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


today's show was...interesting.

Sahib Shihab Blu Around Jazz Sahib
Benny Golson, Phil Woods, Bill Evans, Oscar Pettiford and Art Taylor join Shihab in 1957

Miles Davis Blue in Green Kind of Blue
from the gussied up reissue that's pitch-corrected and remastered.

Thelonious Monk Mood Indigo Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington
Oscar Pettiford and Kenny Clarke join Monk for this example of how jazz musicians lovingly make something their own

Hamiet Bluiett Tranquil Beauty Jazz Loft Sessions
Is there a better name in jazz than Hamiet Bluiett? Juney Booth, Butch Campbell, Olu Dara, Don Moye, Billy Patterson, Bobo Shaw, 1976

John Carter Sweet Sunset Night Fire
From one of Carter's "Folk Suites," underrated jazz classics that will probably get a lot of hype in 10-15 years

John McLaughlin Binky's Beam Extrapolation
astonishing first recording with McLaughlin as leader, 1969, with Tony Oxley, John Surman, Brian Odges

Billy Cobham Spanish Moss Crosswinds
How does Cobham manage to make 17/16 funky? The Breckers and John Abercrombie help, but it's Cobham's show

Sonny Rollins East Broadway Rundown East Broadway Rundown
with Freddie Hubbard, Elvin Jones, Jimmy Garrison. A centerpiece at 21 minutes, worth every second.

Billie Holiday/Esquire All Stars I'll Get By/Tea for Two
The First Esquire Concert, recorded and released by the US Army on shellac V-disks. Check out the announcer. 1944.

Charlie Parker Back Home Blues/Lover Man Swedish Schnapps +
This is what Parker was up to during the WWII recording ban

Steve Lacy/Mal Waldron Star Crossed Lovers Sempre Amore all duets, all Duke or Strayhorn. 1987.

Cecil Taylor Pemmican/Points Garden
I can hear the whole history in Taylor's playing. This is the last 8 minutes of a 103 minutes solo piano performance, November 16, 1981

I seem to be getting better at transitions that are relatively smooth between stuff that one would normally think of as widely divergent. I have no idea how it happened, for example, that the Tea for Two piece segued so naturally into John Lewis's piano intro to Back Home Blues. I think playing the entire 21 minute East Broadway Rundown may have rattled the daylights out of my station manager...and how ironic is it that Rollins/Hubbard/Garrison/Jones perhaps pushed the aesthetic limits the most out of all the selections on the above list?

I had forgotten how much I admire Extrapolation. McLaughlin sets up a fairly straight rhythm section concept with Oxley and Odges, but his guitar sound has rich shades of Brit "blues revival" and then astonishing jazz chording. One wonders if this was something McLaughlin jumped off too soon, after, say, Emergency! or some of the Miles stuff. Surman blows the everloving crap out of the bari, great gorgeous yawps.

And Spanish Moss, the funkiest 17/16 ever. Cobham plays more 8.5 than 17 which helps funk it up. This too is a kind of music that seems largely undeveloped. Fusion-esque textures and instruments, but great horn lines. Sophisticated yet accessible. Lose the fake wind sound and everything would be fine....

Mr. Taylor's last bit of Garden tied the whole thing up somehow. At least I thought so....

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Only Music Worth Playing

I've been part of several tribute/homage/songbook projects, notably with Zimbabwe Nkenya, doing an Ornette Coleman project, a mid-'60s Miles quintet project, part of a Monk tribute; now the main thing happening musically for me is the Miles Davis electric project. So I've been involved with this experience where someone (maybe even me) loves the music of so and so enough to get a group together, try it out, do some of the favorite pieces. With some of Zim's projects it was a drag, ultimately, because he wanted to do OC's songs, he wanted to do the tougher material too from the MD quintet, some very nuanced Monk tunes too, and where were the musicians? Myself included! I always felt completely behind the curve there, exposed, unable to develop a statement of my own and left either poorly imitating Higgins, Blackwell, Roach, Jones (man, Broadway Blues is a bitch!) Williams or, well, generally, lost. With the Miles electric project it's different, because that grew out of players I had already heard here: DJ's, live and pre-produced samples, guitarists, keyboard, bass. It happened more organically, the sounds and approaches already fit before we started to shape pieces like Honky Tonk, Yesternow, Black Satin, etc. The end result is sometimes our versions are flat out close can we get to some of the suspense of Yesternow, for example...sometimes the versions, even of the same tune, are unrecognizable. It's filtered through a kind of freedom that was not available on the OC or Miles quintet projects, because the mastery and the understanding was not in the ensemble, was not in the sound. The tunes there were out of reach, some kind of Platonic eidos that we could only genuflect at the base of or stumble around within, offering our pale stabs, no matter how much we loved the originals.

The Vandermark 5's "Free Jazz Classics Vol. 3: Six for Rollins" sounds like this to me. Both forced and lost. The format is head-solo-solo-solo-head, the arrangements seem desultory, and the overall effect lacks so many of the qualities of Sonny Rollins' music: daring, humor, space, fluidity, elan. The playing is superb, yet another example of unequivocally fine musicianship standing still, running in place, sounding contained and distant, even when the bar lines drop. It's as if the music is a museum piece, a simulacrum, with the homage not reverent enough or all too reverent, I can't decide which. There's a spirit joyless and formulaic in it. I love hearing Vandermark's bari, Jeb Bishop's bone, Kent Kessler's bass and Dave Rempis in particular (shades of Dolphy, Roscoe Mitchell...he is in my opinion the best soloist on the date), but Tim Daisy's drums are so literal. It's jazz drumming on music that I can't help but hear with Roach, Jones, etc. The elasticity of the tempos on The Bridge make me wonder-- are we hearing people play or think about playing while they play? The device itself is not at fault, it's the way it clobbers me over the head.

But for me the signature problem piece is East Broadway Rundown. The original of this recording has long been one of my all time favorite recorded performances in all of jazz, period. It somehow manages to be hilarious, ominous, introspective, playful, pandimensional, inside, outside, abstract, gutbucket, splatteringly free yet stompingly funky, all at once. The line itself is a deceptively simple, seemingly throwaway bit of classic Rollins-- conversational, arch, inscrutable, with a recursive jumpiness that doesn't take itself too seriously and with a hilarious switch to the major in its raggy tag. The best thing about the Vandermark 5 version is hearing Rollins' line. The rest of it just misses me.

I don't know any of the other work of the Vandermark 5 and I'm not qualified to say much about Vol. 4, Free Kings, based on Rashaan Roland Kirk's compositions, as I am way behind on my Kirk.

But the larger questions for me: why bring the repertory idea to so-called free jazz? And why Rollins? Rollins as sound innovator, structural innovator, one of a kind and absolutely original-- no contest. But free jazz? I'm not opposed, I just need more of a conversation around that. Why the self-consciousness in the packaging, the marketing, the use of the questionable phrase "Free Jazz Classics?" I wonder-- who is the audience for this music? Not that there is necessarily one audience.

In the liner notes by Vandermark he concludes with two very strange paragraphs:

"Maybe investigating the groundwork for the improvised music from the 1960's and 70's taught me that it was time to get off the shoulders of those artists in order to look in another direction.

Maybe the point has come when it's necessary to realize that the only music worth playing is happening now."

These statements seem simultaneously so thoroughly arrogant and benighted to me that I'm left (almost) speechless. The only thing I have to say right now about the last sentence is...when Monk played Duke's music, when Rollins played I Can't Get Started, when the Art Ensemble played Zombie, when Mal Waldron and Steve Lacy played A Flower is a Lovesome Thing, was that happening now?

Monday, November 13, 2006


Looking forward to writing more about the Vandermark 5's "Free Jazz Classics Vol. 3: Six for Rollins" but for the moment, a bit of a gloat. The local chain media store (I know, it's strange, "local chain," but there are more startling oxymorons..."Free Jazz Classics," for example...) surprised me by having a ton of used jazz CDs. For less than 50 bucks I snagged:

1. The pitch-corrected remaster of Kind of Blue (mine was stolen out of my car by some impecunious Miles fan with a Flamenco Sketches jones)

2. John Carter's Black Saint recording, "Night Fire," with Bobby Bradford, James Newton, Roberto Miranda and William Jeffrey. Makes me want to get all of the other suites Carter did, especially recordings with Andrew Cyrille.

3. A CD compilation of the Douglas Wildflowers Loft Jazz series (now playing "Black Robert" by Dave Burrell, Stafford James and Harold White). It seems they culled the most "radio friendly" or close to the tradition cuts from the multiple LP series, several of which I have on sadly distressed vinyl. I had forgotten how much I loved the sound of Burrell's piano.

4. "Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington," with Klook and OP. Man, I've thought of getting this about a million times. Can't wait to hear it.

5. John McLaughlin's innovative "Extrapolation" with John Surman, Tony Oxley and Brian Odges. Again, I had it for years on vinyl but now it's digital.

6. Jackie McLean's "New Soil," 1959 Blue Note in keeping with my recent re-evaluation of the late 50s through mid-'60s Blue Note catalogue. This one I picked up in particular because it has Pete La Roca Sims on drums, and I don't hear nearly enough of him, but there's also Paul Chambers, Walter Davis, Jr. and Donald Byrd.

The advantage of an amorous relationship with underrated music? Maybe. What kind of fool would hand over their used Monk to a chain CD store? Okay, maybe a fool with an iPod or whatever, but still.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

east broadway standstill

Latest "candle in sunshine" discovery that speaks volumes about the current state of things, The Vandermark 5's Free Jazz Classics, Volume 3, Six for Rollins. It's entirely possible that I'm benighted and quite out of line to suggest it's better not to make this recording *at all*. But before I go any further, mistrusting first impressions as I do and wanting perhaps to open my ears...maybe I'm missing something? Maybe it isn't fair to compare *even when the musicians beg the comparison* by calling something "Six for Rollins." Anyway, before I say more here, I'll listen more. If anyone out there wants to give me their own version of "glowing liner notes" to this or other Vandermark 5 recordings go for it.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

parochial blues

The calendar entry I wrote previewing Wynton Marsalis's show here actually generated a letter to the editor, expressing dismay. Expressing a lot of things, including the strange opinion that it's parochial, calling Marsalis "largely derivative" and calling Jazz at Lincoln Center "backward looking." On the contrary, one could argue that calling Marsalis a "National Treasure" (as the letter writer did) just might be...something like parochial. What is especially of note is that I write all sorts of snarky, backhanded blurbs for this Performing Arts calendar every week, and it was the Sacred Cow that generated the first letter ever.

Also of note is the flurry of interaction with Outpost Productions, who booked the event. I've known Outpost's director, Tom Guralnick, for many years. He and I are in email dialogue now about my comments. By the way, if you can get your hands on the Tom Guralnick Quartet with Steve Feld, I highly recommend it. Or any other of a number of Guralnick's kickass electroacoustic Mobile Saxophone and Mute Unit recordings. There's old stuff of mine, 1990 or so, with unbelievable bass sax playing by TG on there.

Today's show as a substitute DJ was very strange. I decided to focus on jazz vocals in the first hour, including Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Ella, as well as the too-hip Babs Gonzales and a Dizzy Gillespie vocal number. Oh yeah, Billy Eckstine too. I don't really hear jazz vocals and it was interesting listening. The strangest of all was probably Rae Pearl with Tadd Dameron, a number called "Casbah" that one critic has called "the most extravagant three minutes in be-bop history."

Call me parochial, but a lot of jazz vocal music is just bizarre. Then again, I'd rather hear CT's spoken word epic Chinampas than Diana Krall or Kurt Elling, so I guess that says something....

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

society of esoteric and arcane flamethrowers

Interesting what stirs the loins of internet gladiators. Destination-out puts up some Herbie Mann and the unexpected (or perhaps entirely predictable?) result is an argument about the significance of a certain Miles Dewey Davis. Analogous to the ridiculous Ornette Coleman "debate" of a few weeks ago. The theme is the same: "I know far more about cultural history than you do, and if you knew what I knew, you'd know more than you know. Miles is overrated, you are ignorant of the secret world of true artists, you have been duped."

If I didn't have to finish two pieces that are due tomorrow for SFR's Gift Guide (one on music to buy for people you love, the other on games to buy for people you love...) I'd make a project out of this Miles thing today. I'd also upload some of the Adrian Belew pics from last Saturday and write my take on that. I'd also write a few more 4th step pages. I might even eat lunch.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

trumpet unfanfare

I observe with some curiosity that Wynton Marsalis's visit to the City of Holy Faith gets very little press. There's my blurb in the performing arts calendar in SFR, (scroll down) but I fully expected a two or three page puff piece in the Santa Fe New Mexican, which did not appear in their "arts and culture" weekly magazine, Pasatiempo. What did appear was the best my friend David Prince could arrange with Marsalis's press people, a one page interview with Walter Blanding, Jr., who plays tenor in the band. On the one hand this may simply be a continued reflection of the shithouse coverage that jazz in general gets here. On the other hand, it could be a "conspicuous in its absence" indication of a more specific lack of interest. I'll be interested to find out what the house is for Marsalis's performance. Again, I expect it will sell out, but who knows?

What does it mean that Peter Nero got more coverage than Marsalis? I had a great time interviewing Nero for SFR. Personally, I would rather shoot myself in the kneecap than spin a Nero record, but he was unpretentious, funny, world-weary, honest and made no bones about who and what he is and what his music is.

Friday, November 03, 2006

elephant talk

Through an odd series of events (me to arts editor: do we have any comps for Adrian Belew's show? arts editor: not yet, I'll check it out. Arts editor calls venue (Santa Fe Brewing Company). Guy from venue calls KBAC during contest for free tickets, a meet and greet, and an autographed guitar, wins but can't accept prize, gives KBAC my name...) I get to talk with Adrian Belew, I get an autographed guitar, I get two free tickets. I think I'll review my Belew discography a bit...I know him from King Crimson's Discipline, Talking Heads Remain in Light, his own recent Side 3 and I guess that collaboration between Henry Rollins and William Shatner. (you know, "I Can't Get Behind That...," about which experience Rollins included a hilarious 20-25 minutes or so in his Shock and Awe monologue when I saw him here a couple of years ago).

The other odd thing about this is I already had comps to see Wynton Marsalis the same night. Typical Santa Fe log jam, nothing for weeks, Adrian Belew and Marsalis on the same night. I was set to go to the Marsalis show just to see what he's up to these days but I'll pass now.

Comps for shows have become not just a nice occasional fringe benefit of being a writer, but an economic necessity. I have no idea what ticket prices are like in other parts of the country but here they have bumped up faster than gasoline. The Marsalis show starts at $45 and goes up to $80. Belew, appearing at what is basically a pub without a stage, is $30-$45. Freelance writing rates here are in line with wages in general (in the sub-basement) so a lot of shows are prohibitive. This new ticket pricing deal here is a fairly recent development and would be interesting to do a story on.

Yesterday's show sparked more phone calls than I usually get, including from the 85 year old Meredith Fink who deeply appreciated my playing some '70s "fusion." The main impression that sticks with me is just how fresh and jagged Ornette Coleman's Dancing in Your Head sounded next to some of the other pieces I played. That and how profoundly fascinated I continue to be by Miles Davis's electric trumpet/wah-wah pedal set up. So close in time to the big, brassy open horn sound he was using on Jack Johnson, etc., coming out of what one could call the peak of his technical proficiency as a brass player.

Speaking of which, have to check out a Roswell Rudd disc called Blown Bone handed off by station manager: "Here, this is the kind of thing you seem to like..." haha.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Last week, vaguely toying with the idea of putting together a Hallowe'en themed jazz show, I had a hard time coming up with ominous, frightening jazz. Lots of the listeners to KSFR would probably be frightened by lots of what I'd like to play...Brotzmann, Silva's "Luna Surface," CT's Indent, Zorn. But it's not frightening per se. Miles Davis occurred to me as a musician and composer who went into a sort of shadow-aesthetic that a lot of so-called jazz seems to lack. I'm thinking Bitches Brew up to Pangaea. (excluding the obvious).

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Jazz Odyssey

Transferred all of the downloaded music from the past few weeks into a playlist (yeah, Windows Mediaplayer, real cutting edge 'round here) and up now is Julian Priester's "Love,Love." Large ensemble, great groove in 15, somewhat dated electronic effects (but charmingly retro-analogue, and damn it I adore the Fender Rhodes, one of the most underrated of all 20th Century instruments). Most of the downloaded music in my files is from the inestimably valuable and tasty Surprising to see that the playlist totals more than 6 frikkin' hours.

Also up is some Tim Berne, sample mp3's from the lovely screwgun records site, and some Clifford Thornton with Jimmy Garrison and Joe McPhee as well as late '60s Brotzmann from a site called epitonic, that sadly seems defunct or something, despite having live downloadable complete tracks, some of which are quite long. Brotzmann's "Nipples," for example, with Evan Parker and Derek Bailey and a host of others. I keep meaning to digitize my FMP vinyl (and maybe about 50-75 other records) and I keep...not.

The unreliable narrator has offered some of her lovely server space for me to upload mp3's and I look forward to offering links to my own performances as well as music of others.

I'm planning a "jazz fusion" show for this week on KSFR, seeing as how The Zawinul Syndicate played at Lincoln Center last weekend. Like every genre in "jazz," so-called fusion is, well, a lot of different genres. Sadly, the wealth of great music boxed into the confines of "fusion" gets obscured by either the wanktastic proclivities of some who carried the torch for the genre just after the first vital wave (The formidable Derek Smalls composition "Jazz Odyssey" as performed by Spinal Tap, for parodic example), or by the wet kleenex smooth jazz approaches. It's particularly funny to me that Miles Davis gets blamed for creating the genre in the first place. It's clear to anyone with ears that Davis's most aesthetically challenging and prolific creative period was 1969-1975. It should also be clear that the music was a natural extension of what the "second great quintet" was up to, in combination with Davis's unbelievable ears. Hilarious to observe the jazz critics "re-evaluate" this period. (Reminded of the two-star review of On the Corner that ran in Downbeat when On the Corner first came out, containing the statement: "I hate to think that anyone is so easily pleased as to dig this record to any extent.")

Thank God for Windows Mediaplayer, now delivering the roiling, discursive, recursive John Coltrane solo from "Creation," via Ethan Iverson's blog, via Billy Hart.

Friday, October 27, 2006

pantheons and pandemonia

The Oct. 30th issue of the New Yorker lists Tomasz Stanko, Bennie Wallace and Cecil Taylor playing this week, among others. Then there's this blurb:

"Jazz at Lincoln Center: "Fusion Revolution." And so the barriers come down. With the appearance of The Joe Zawinul Syndicate within the hallowed confines of Jazz at Lincoln Center, fusion enters the pantheon."

In honor of these barriers coming down I'm rolling with Billy Cobham's Spectrum as I type.

I would love to interview Wynton Marsalis about this, but he's not giving interviews, at least not in connection with his appearance here in Santa Fe next week. I've only heard some of Zawinul's work prior to Miles and Weather Report, I think all of it with Cannonball Adderly. He plays extraordinarily well on a previously unreleased live 1966 recording with Adderly on Capitol, "Live at The Club;" the centerpiece is his own Requiem for a Jazz Musician. (It's a strange recording, as Cannonball was in the habit of handing out sticks to all of the audience members, and this loose "click track" makes for some odd moments).

There is a lot of meandering, self-indulgent live Weather Report up at YouTube, mostly posted by the Jaco groupies. This performance of Volcano for Hire from the later band at the Playboy Festival in LA is remarkable. It's great to hear Wayne Shorter stretching out some more, and the two-drummer setup (Omar Hakim and who?) is pretty wicked, except that the guy on the tom rack and percussion is often inaudible. Zawinul gets some twinkly synth solo time just before the break. The main line itself is pure Zawinul, much more sophisticated than what WR was doing on Birdland, etc. Victor Bailey's bass sound and attack is beautiful. I especially appreciate the odd, broken bop-like lines at about 3:20 that lead into the head.

here's to barriers coming down. And here's to Cecil Taylor tonight at Iridium on Broadway...CT, I hope you found American Spirit menthols somewhere in Manhattan.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

today's show

Reeling things in a bit today on KSFR, as some of the programming the past couple of weeks has begun to raise eyebrows again from the higher ups. (Long-suffering station manager to me after last week's show: "Another wacky show today eh?" He was mostly referring to the alto (Dudu Pukwana) and trumpet (Mongezi Feza) solos over the lush orchestrations of Brotherhood of Breath's Devashe's Dream. Perhaps the Muhal Richard Abrams tracks as well.)

Modern Jazz Quartet, Roy Haynes, Bud Powell, Brownie with Roach and Rollins, Pepper Adams, Erroll Garner, Holiday, JJ Johnson, Milt Jackson provide a panoply of safe yet tasty excursions in today's set list. The eyebrow raising is limited to Archie Shepp from Magic of JuJu (side B) Joe Harriott (Straight Lines) and Ornette (Enfant).

Fence sitting, "radio-friendly" (good lord) hybrid inside/out music is more rare than I realized, at least at this time in my library. One example in today's show is the wonderful quartet with Paul Bley, John Gilmore, Paul Motian and Gary Peacock (Ida Lupino). Two goals for building playlists for the future: 1. snag a lot more music from figures solidly in the tradition but that's odd or edgy in some way (late Duke has worked well for this, as has Herbie Nichols, some Mingus, actually quite a bit of Miles). 2. Find much more so-called "outside" stuff that is fairly easy aesthetically (so far some Art Ensemble, Ornette Coleman, several downloads from, etc.) The problem with the whole enterprise: my ears are so accustomed to the entire spectrum that I often hear something as aesthetically accessible that ends up freaking out my long-suffering station manager.

A third goal: get a lot more contemporary releases, from 1995-present. Funny that I get pigeonholed around here as an "outside" listener and musician when in many current circles my library is considered absolutely retro and stuffy.

anyway, I'm on from 1-3 Mountain Standard Time every Thursday streaming from

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

o tempora! o marsalis! (a.k.a. laces out!)

Call me obsessed, call me paranoid, call me misguided, but when The Outpost, formerly a rather adventurous presenting organization, brings first Branford Marsalis and now, Wynton Marsalis to the barren, windswept, cultural badlands of northern New Mexico, I start to freak out. Or at least get downhearted.

To be fair (and to increase a strange sense of the culture wars being played out at my doorstep) The Outpost helped bring Cecil Taylor here about 2 and a half years ago, and has some interesting stuff on the fall schedule, including the great Eddie Marshall.

Recent "jazz" bookings here included Jane Ira Bloom and Sophie Millman. Bloom is up to fascinating stuff, not entirely to my personal taste but independent and unique, fiercely conceived and instantly recognizable as original. Millman was so bad she actually generated letters to the editor protesting just how bad she was. Which surprised me.

There's The Southwest Jazz Orchestra, which just released its first CD. Some talented players and obvious investment in arranging (mostly by Jack Manno) but largely a repertory outfit. Manno's own piece, "Soaring," is his take on Pat Metheny's guitar lines, but doesn't stand up all that well next to Mulligan, Mingus, etc. The strangest cut is the 16 minute version of "A Love Supreme," (really just the opening section of Coltrane's piece) at too fast a tempo and with none of the meditative mystery of the original. In general, this is an excellent document of what passes for jazz in this part of the world, in that the music is unarguably crafted, mostly reverent, mostly familiar and ancient, not original, and encumbered by a stage band/recital mentality. The enthusiasm and love for the music is implied, but doesn't translate into very energetic or memorable performance. The technical facility and polish of the soloists is pervasive, the charts are workmanlike, the results bland, like jazz preserved in amber.

In other words, to my ears, completely and entirely unlike jazz. On the other hand, I suspect attending a live performance by The Southwest Jazz Orchestra would be a lot of fun. In particular it's rather rare to hear music by a large ensemble these days here. Most of the rehashing is in piano trio and sax quartet settings, mostly in dinner music venues. The big band sound remains one of my favorites, dating from my 10 year old obsession with Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson, Louis Bellson, Count Basie, and later Duke Ellington, David Murray, Muhal Richard Abrams and Braxton's amazing Creative Orchestra Music '76. Big band music also has perhaps the highest bombast/treacle/pretense quotient in all of jazz. A recent spotlight on Stan Kenton on KSFR here reminded me just how aesthetically bereft and tasteless some big bands could be. (In particular, a dirgelike and funereal version of All the Things You Are that utterly, completely stripped that lovely standard of every aspect of its worth).
In comparison, The Southwest Jazz Orchestra largely avoids embarrassing pitfalls and turns in steady, studied and staid (but at least inoffensive) performances.

And this would be one way to characterize what's on offer here most often, and what garners the most approval, support and attendance. Steady, studied, staid: familiar, polished, repertory-derived, inoffensive...and bland, a music locked, like an extinct insect, in primordial tree sap.

Monday, October 23, 2006


Also finding plenty of the usual internet cock measuring, posturing, and drive-by cheap shots at, in particular, (see sidebar, check out the Bill Dixon birthday post and comments, Good Lord)-- sadly, as it's also a vital site that is perhaps the most lively. Another irony: a post to extolling the virtues of Ken Burns' Jazz by none other than Marc Edwards, CT's drummer on the epic Dark to Themselves (Edwards turns in a remarkable, passionate, incisive and brilliant performance there, in which I personally hear a lot of Andrew Cyrille influence). Which, in typical free for all internet fashion, has about six trillion responses representing a wide range of mentally interesting points of view.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Another discovery...looks like a fairly active forum. The sidebar keeps growing.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Freeing Jazz: A YouTube Artist's Tour (or, why I think The Jazz Police have no clothes)

Thinking more about the argument between traditionalists and innovators in any art form, but specifically music. What jumped up in my memory was a Cecil Taylor quote from one of his prickly interviews in the '70s, I think. Interviewers were always asking him about his technique. He'd always say something like "what does it matter?" He elaborated in a quote once by saying something like "anyone with the means can develop technique." I suppose he meant financial means, the resources.

So we have this concept of instrumental mastery, of theoretical mastery, of study and musicianship. The traditionalists more often introduce these terms into their discourse. Here in Santa Fe, especially, "musicianship" is thrown around like mad. (Well, when "playing changes" is still the be all, end all insignia of jazz "musicianship," as well as a very defined timbre, a very refined and gentle aesthetic...) (don't get me wrong, I love Paul desmond, no sarcasm whatsoever, I truly do).

So what makes a musician an artist? Going beyond their instrument, their technique, tone, going beyond being a technician. Individual voice and vision. You don't only instantly recognize their instrumental playing but you also are very glad to be there with them. "Beyond" might be the wrong word. Encompassing more than the physical relationship with the mechanics of producing sound.

But also encompassing more than an imitative or reiterative relationship with the sounds and styles of others. The Braxton stab at Impressions up at YouTube is one kind of example. Compare the melodic, scalar materials he uses, hewing close to the modal tonality, with the immediate departures in phrasing and temporal sense. The Dolphy influence is very clear to me, except that Braxton chooses something midregister without so many intervalic leaps. Taking off around 2:30 and 4 minutes Braxton plays with multiphonic and harmonic shredding, not to my ear from the gospel shout background from which some players' "screaming" seemed to emerge, but from a more abstract place. Fascinating to hear Corea, Vitous and DeJohnette playing very much in "the idiom," laying down a background over which one could imagine many different soloists. (Note that Braxton pulls a traditional jazz rabbit out of a hat by restating the theme at the end of his solo- re-emphasizing the essentially traditional nature of the performance no matter where he might take the solo in between.)

My friend Chris Jonas said once "I hate when Anthony plays those standards," referring more to the "In The Tradition" recordings with Pedersen and Tete Montoliu. Jonas studied with Braxton at Wesleyan and I assume he prefers Braxton unfettered by the tensions of traditional song form. I should ask him.

Then there's Cecil Taylor's One Night with Blue Note Tribute to Alfred Lion solo piano piece. part one,
part two

An interesting contrast is Mr. Taylor's solo performance in Imagine the Sound, captured a short time before. Listen for some of the compositional elements that are identical, in a somehwat pared down milieu.

How much Taylor brought to music by leaving tunes like Things Ain't What They Used to Be behind, by leaving those ensemble and solo ideas in his past (yet there are long sections of his Unit performances that are very much in that tradition as well). By the '80s, when this performance happened, Taylor had made a leap into a sort of 4th dimension that incorporated several melodic and harmonic themes that have yet to be properly analyzed and understood. The alternation between his articulated two-handed immaculately fingered runs and his drumming technique is particularly stunning. I hear the tradition in what he does but in dimensions that are difficult to explicate. As far as technique is concerned, it is beyond reproach, but how ridiculous would it be to hear this and ask "yeah, but can the guy play changes?"

I don't mean to harp on Wynton and Branford Marsalis, but here's CT in his own words on Wynton from an "interview" with Kurt Gottschalk up at allaboutjazz Taylor's take on "the jazz tradition" is very lovingly and acerbically articulated in that interview.

Is it any wonder that Ben Raitliff's "Listening" piece with Branford Marsalis calls Brandford Marsalis "The Jazz Police?" As I mentioned in a comment on the be-jazz blog, I'd gladly forget the Marsalis Factor altogether except that they have left an indelible mark not with their music, but with their revisionist and conservative history of jazz. I loved reading Dave Douglas on the Ken Burns "Jazz" documentary: "It made me want to throw a brick through my television." This was exactly my response for many reasons, yet at the time of its airing I was surrounded by people well-versed in "jazz" as well as neophytes who were orgasmic over the program.

George Russell, Robert Palmer and Ornette Coleman free-forming in conversation about intuition and the heart is part of the story. Interesting to hear one of the foremost technical theorists in jazz harmony and improvisation referring to "Third World Technology" (which could easily be misconstrued out of context)as a value represented by what we call jazz.

The remarkable Italian television performance by a kind of transitional Ornette Coleman group from 1974, with James Blood Ulmer, Billy Higgins and Sirone, says more. Theme from a Symphony, The Good Life, School Work, whatever you call it, there's something seemingly perversely primitivist about Ornette's melody, its repeated, cloying scalar simplicity, recalling Albert Ayler's Bells. (And the Art Ensemble's A Jackson in Your House). At this point Coleman is employing rhythm section ideas that are fairly close to traditional jazz strategy. Higgins playing time, Sirone and Ulmer covering some diatonic harmony. As soon as the solo section starts, what happens? I don't know enough about guitar to understand Ulmer's set up, tuning or technique, but his comping is impressionistically impressive. Sirone's walking chromatic bass lines in slightly more than double time are definitely intuitive, but draw from the traditional role of the bass during jazz horn solos. Coleman goes a lot of different places, but he does restate variations of a part of the theme to cue the end of his solo. Higgins' solo is as straight as anyone's playing here, but elegant and melodic and fitting. The return to the theme itself at the end is surprising and strange. An interesting exercise is to hum or sing the tonic of the theme statement throughout Ornette Coleman's solo, or just keep repeating the theme itself...perhaps it's my imagination but architecturally Coleman seems to accomplish a harmolodic miracle, jumping off of various scale tones of the original theme.

Braxton, Taylor and Coleman are perhaps the three artists from earlier extensions of "jazz" strategy who are most often cited as thorny, difficult, "not jazz," or even "charlatans." This seems particularly sad and unnecessary, exaggerated by traditionalists, both critics and musicians themselves. Some give a cursory nod to their work while citing some "lack of musicianship" and explicitly or implicitly, some lack of plain old cred. (Betty Carter on Cecil, paraphrased: "I don't know what Black Music has, but Cecil doesn't have it." Is it any wonder that a half-fond nickname Mr. Taylor uses for Carter is "The Beast"?) A critic of Ornette Coleman who raises the issue of his tone and intonation and unfavorably compares his playing to that of, say, Phil Woods or Branford Marsalis on the basis of sound production alone is stuck somewhere, in my opinion. Technical aspects of sound production go right past something ineffable about musicians who are also artists.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

ornette in his own words

Here's a link to an interview with Ornette Coleman from 1987 that I think says it all:

OC at the Ed Blackwell tribute

smooth or jarring?

we'll see...looking forward to the fade from Don Cherry's piece Brown Rice to Sassy doing Lullaby of Birdland.

which reminds me...have to go be on the radio.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

wtf? There's an Ornette Coleman debate??

Sometimes something so breathtakingly unexpected leaps out at you and you have to reconfigure your whole framework. Such is the case with a bunch of stuff on the web regarding so-called "outside" or "free" jazz.

I thought that people had become more comfortable with so-called "free jazz." Of course, I was wrong. "Free jazz" or "outside" or "avant garde" or whatever are themselves terms that are red flags for me. Why do you even have to say what it is? Why put a label on music that's been crucial to jazz evolution for almost 50 frikkin' years now? It's just great music. And who are Wynton and Branford? I heard "Blackzilla" on the radio today and it absolutely bored the everlovin' crap out of me. A sad, pale, thin, boring rip off of "that wild Trane stuff." Branford does better when he's playing new age riffs over sappy orchestrations. It's particularly revealing that Branford M continues to make proclamations about some sort of "ownership" of the music as a result of study and imitation of past masters (see the end of Darius Brubeck's essay).

Darius Brubeck's extremely odd essay about Ornette (on Jack Reilly's blog) doesn't really take a position. It seems clear to me he has not a clue what OC's compositional and theoretical approach is really about.

Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus takes a stab at a clearer and more cogent analysis of Ornette's methodology on his blog.

This still seems tangential somehow. And the truly ironic thing about the Great Ornette Coleman Debate of 2006 is it's nearly 50 years old. Where has everyone been?

HurdAudio posts an excellent rebuttal to Brubeck's "essay."

Still, it amazes me that Ornette Coleman's music and his presence in American life could still be cause for controversy. Perhaps it is a measure of the media success of The Marsalis Factor, this culture-war idea that jazz has to be "legitimized" as an art form, safe for repertory and the concert hall, as "worthy" of serious study as "classical music." The irony is (partly) that The Academy has supported probably far more creative composers and musicians than it has jazz traditionalists bent on "preservation." Well, there are a lot of ironies.

Another irony is that the musicians themselves, who have the least distinctive personal visions or voices, are the ones standing back from *sound innovator and manifest visionary* Ornette Coleman and talking the loudest. The strange aspect of jazz as a cultural product of legitimacy is it leaves behind the phenomenon of what Gil Evans called the "sound innovator." You put on a recording of Louis, Dolphy, Hawkins, Ayler, Threadgill, Bowie, Duke or Garner and you immediately know who it is. It's not about something that can be preserved or archived. And perhaps it is precisely because many so-called jazz musicians now have absolutely no identifiable sound and nothing recognizable as uniquely theirs in their vision that they have returned to "debating" the merits of musicians who make an indelible mark the instant you hear them.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

a problem with blogs

You feel oddly compelled to write something even when you suspect you have little or nothing to say.

Pinkbootathon tomorrow. Bing rehearsal today. still has “A Beginner’s Guide to Free Jazz” up. One of the things I’ve appreciated most about destination-out is that they have uploaded a bunch of stuff I have on flawed vinyl, or I used to have but no longer have. Such as Don Cherry’s “Brown Rice,” which was for a short time a sort of theme song at St. John’s (perhaps coincident with the influx of a huge brick of hashish and some extremely potent psilocybin mushrooms).

My student produced opera schedule is set: Thursdays from 3:45 to 5:00 at Nava, Fridays from 8:30 to 10:15 at Salazar. The best aspect this time around is I’m working with the same theater artist, Kathryn Mark, at both sites.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

3+4+3+4+3+4+3+3+4+3+4+3+4+3+3+4+3+4+3+4+3 without being able to hear. While another drummer and bassist are playing 3+4+3+4+3+3+4+3+4+3. Lock into 24 while the other drummer and bassist lock into 17. Then get ready for 16 bars of 4/4 then back to 24 against 17. Without being able to hear. Or try playing in 3/8 in a piece that's in 15/8 so also counting in groups of 5. Or find a pocket in 20/4 at a tempo somewhere between 60 bpm and 80 bpm. WITHOUT BEING ABLE TO HEAR. Compounded by one's natural desire to create organic sounding musical shapes that are not counting cleverness nor arid mathy stilted constipated mind games.

Such was recording with Jonas yesterday. If anything truly sparky and useable came out of those 6 hours it will be a miracle.

Question: how can a college spend out the wazoo on a state of the art recording studio and have the shittiest studio monitor headphone setup I've ever encountered? It's wrong of me to attribute this to Santa Fe idiocy in general but there it is.

Destination-out crafted a wonderful post titled "A Beginner's Guide to Free Jazz" and while I might not agree with the specific tracks in some cases it's an interesting idea. How do you introduce someone to creative improvised music? It's so contrary to music made for consumption, for life soundtrack or the reinforcement of sentiment. Or whatever. I think the most powerful experiences of collectively improvised music are in live concert settings. But maybe there are recordings that offer a sort of gateway.

Monday, October 09, 2006

stuck on a title

High Mayhem was definitely something. The experience changed for me after the performance Saturday with Rrake. In general, it’s a different feel when one is in the festival as well as a spectator. Random: so many drummers. Conceived a possible piece for 9 drummers for next year. Maybe with 9 drum kits, maybe with somewhere from 1-3 drum kits and multiple drummers on each, sort of like the bowed piano ensemble. Partly a humorous take on just how many drummers there are. But also an expansive approach to the sounds a drum kit can make. Obviously when you think about 9 drummers you think drum battle, bombast, volume. What I’m hearing is extremely sparse and mysterious, also perhaps a humorous parody of the whole concept of drumming itself. Perhaps the drum kits could gradually be assembled and taken apart during the performance.

Rude young people: behind me, during a quiet passage in the excellent (if slightly tentative) Hall Monitors set a young woman was yakking away loudly about Cadillac Ranch, of all things. I asked her to be quiet. She approached me in a break between pieces and under the thinly disguised pretence of apologizing accused me of being rude. I let her know in no uncertain terms that I would brook no such table turning. Whereupon she scurried about (after ascertaining my name) complaining loudly to a wide variety of High Mayhem personnel about what a Rude Person I was. Come to find out she was also highly intoxicated and rather incoherent in general (which I couldn’t pick up on in the brief interactions in the theater itself).

Deirdre Morris’s butoh-inspired piece: one of the highlights of the whole weekend for me.

The wonders of modern technology: Chris Jonas already has a DVD of the Rrake performance. Possible recording session for tomorrow at the College of Santa Fe to capture some stuff before Josh Smith heads back to Oakland.

Awake until 3:30 am. Not up until 11:30. Disorienting for a Monday.

Catalogue: two winter guide pieces, theater review, PA calendar, drum lesson, possible new drum student, opera meeting tomorrow, recording session tomorrow?, Miles rehearsal Wed. 6:30-8, radio and Nava Thursday, Bing rehearsal Saturday?, Pink Boot Sunday. What kind of week is that?

Saturday, October 07, 2006


First night of the High Mayhem Emerging Arts Festival was generally phenomenal as usual. The Brilliant Dullards launched with brooding, introspective ambient country/folk music that had an original edge, with references to Tom Waits, Bill Frisell, Radiohead, etc. Jeremy Bleich’s melodica and Milton Villarrubia’s subtle but energetic drumming made it really move for me. Steven M. Miller up next with cascades and washes of tripped out electronic music of the sort that provided a drug-free out of body experience. The highlight of the evening for me was Dino’s Out of Context. A large ensemble including spoken word and voice, OOC is an improvisational orchestra shaped in the moment by Dino’s conduction. He uses 40 different hand signals and was brilliant in his sound sculpting; the ensemble showed focus and prescience.

Another layer altogether provided by Damon and family outside drumming and hollering hilarious poetry through a megaphone. Also, the Anarchestra shack, this year streamlined with quieter instruments. Scary red curtains in a square little room. Reminded me of hell as depicted by David Lynch in Twin Peaks. No backwards talking dwarves were in evidence, however.

What I personally could have done without: a segment of the otherwise intriguing Simulate Sensual performance that included a smug asshole pseudo-shaman who sang lyrics like this: “I want to be enlightened but I’m too fucking frightened.” Go away kid, you bother me.

This evening’s highlight for me personally will be me personally attempting not to personally slaughter Chris Jonas’s intricate and fierce compositions.

The un noted a couple of days ago that High Mayhem is the only thing that has kept me from Friday night poker. Excepting the silent film gig months ago.

The un has generously offered her apartment to my niece Emily and her (what? Boyfriend? Partner? Another conversation with the un about the unsuitability of these relationship names. Maybe this is confirmation through linguistic analysis of The Sponsor’s general theory that relationships are an illusion. Maybe not) boyfriend, who are here for a wedding. This offer comes in the midst of some soul searching around who stays where when, so it is particularly generous. More on that later.

Monday, October 02, 2006

rio en medio

Went out for my annual exercise yesterday on a hike with the narrator up SF National Forest Trail 163, Rio En Medio. River in the middle. Unaccountably beautiful. Every now and then I start in on the old refrain, “I have to get out of here, it’s crazy to live here, people are nuts, this isn’t the right town for me.” Then there’s a day somewhere outside, in the middle of why I’m here in the first place and I find it hard to imagine living anywhere else.

Also discovered a three storey shopping mall right on the plaza that I didn’t even know existed. Ridiculous. Somehow right back to the feeling that this is a ridiculous town. When my sense of humor is intact I’m all right with it. Especially appreciate St. Francis Cathedral with its rose window and its formidable razor sharp spikes arrayed in dense clusters under other windows. St. Francis grieving over speared squirrels and birds. All they wanted was a ledge.

One surprise up the Rio en Medio trail was Pediocactus simpsonii which I thought only started popping up farther north.

Must…write…PA Calendar.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

what it must be, it is!

I play around sometimes with the automatic translators on the web. The following is a review of The Henry Grimes Trio, on Ayler records, with Hamid Drake and David Murray, transduced from the Italian:

From the null one Henry Grimes returns. The orecchie and the hairs are bristled. One that to a sure point of the life, after years sixty are confronted with the best jazzisti of the times (); it has decided to disappear for thirty years from the scenes. One that came considered you draw better bassisti in circulation then; one of more equips to you. It had sold its instrument, had cut every possible bridge; it did not know neanche that Ayler was died. Then its name, unexpected; to Los Angeles. Traced from a social worker. Nourishing cerchia of musicians adopts it ideally, encourages it. Then the time of New York arrives; of a new one low. What it must be; it is! Recorded in june 2004 during the Kerava Jazz Festival that is carried out in Finland, the Henry Grimes Trio reveals entusiasmante machine (free) jazz as little times are given to feel. Of it they make part the drummer Hamid Drake and the titanic one to incedere to sax the tenor of David Murray. Fantastic an incandescent lavica tap that one that is primed between the three, one to sprizzare continuous of sparkes; class and inventiveness to profusione. Us vision is found again in the presence of one/emanation connected directly to the several Ayler, Sonny Rollins. All of one surgical precision, the more complex passages and collectives; the solisti moments of one gold of moving classicità. One real, entusiasmante; epifania sonorous. The drumming often funk of Drake one meets with vibrates to you of Murray, to hold all the united one think the agile melodiche lines to us of Grimes; capolavoro. I detach then omicida of according to brano, assolo sweeping of Drake and the opening to bottom throttle and sax; the perfection! The perfect interpretation of the Ayler verbo in opening of the third fragment, dedication and ecstasy; God on the tip of the fingers that suggests that to keys and ropes and skins to strapazzare. What it must be; it is! Pure Trascendenza! One that had gotten lost is has been found again. The divinity induces ringraziare all that are known in closely alphabetical order. Immense! The Naked Lunch!

Which reminds me. Recurring state of agitated self-reflection in which I am weedy and ill-fitted, in combination with behind the curve and late for everything. On the one hand passionate about a few obscure things that I can’t often fully articulate. Sponsor: What is the purpose then of theater? Hmmmm: I dunno. Explorations even brief of the wealth of information out there on jazz now ranging from a tenor player named Javon Jackson who is visiting The Outpost in Albuquerque this week (really just sort of pale R and B funky nonsense that would never have been booked at The Outpost even a few years ago) to Swedish new music record labels (including a Jimmy Lyons Box Set that I didn’t even know existed or the personnel on Alan Silva’s Luna Surface which it turns out included Braxton, Shepp, Malachi Favors…a record I have owned for a long time but without the jacket so I never knew who was in the brew) to The Bad Plus which I somehow convince myself is a mirror for the apathetic, anhedonistical low affect 20-something chill cynics. To cactus info in response to members of the cactiguide forum wanting help with an ID and I set out fairly sure what something is and end up completely in the dark, really.

In theory, the new mantra “I don’t know the whole story and I don’t have to,” intended to make steps 1-3 bite size is something just fine by me. But when the rubber meets the road (oh strike that, no leave it in) and I touch on areas where I call myself an expert (“And you call yourself an expert? Hahahahahahah”) it’s a painful experience to come up against just how little I actually do know.

Then there is that weedy thing. I am out of place. This is the wrong town with the wrong people, the wrong artists and musicians. Second, third, fourth wave recycled by wannabes, approaches appearing cutting edge and radical here that have been deployed and abandoned decades ago elsewhere. The old arguments about “outside” versus “inside” that aren’t even taking place in my imaginary cities where everyone is very hip and knows who Karen Borca is. Where Cecil Taylor long ago moved from “radical” to “icon.”

I explain and defend here a lot and I imagine a magical place where *other people would bring shit to me that I did not know about* and where all of the explaining and defending would be over with. A group, too, not just one or two others. But that’s just my imagination. Runnin’ away with me.

I theorize that all of these discomforts are aspects of myself emerging rather than hiding in the background and pretending. Certainly a side effect of sobriety.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

crucial update

What’s that underwear doing in the corner? I ask. I’m told I use it to dust. Or perhaps grow mice through a process of spontaneous generation…

Too nice outside to blog.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

TO completely figured out

Sent this as a jape to the alumni email discussion list for St. John's College, where I got my undergrad:

By the way, TO is obviously a product of white fear, demonization and
its concurrent idolization of black males. The middle class ironically
including "bushwa blacks" as Linton Kwesi Johnson called them (in his
song, "Bushwa Blacks") still wants to create opportunities for success
and fame for black males only in arenas where they remain
hypersexualized and dangerous (or, which is the flip side of the same
coin, "nice," "well spoken" and stripped of any sense of history and
thoroughly embedded in the myth of American success). The factors
contributing to TO's manifestation in the media as "crazy" and an
"egomaniac" include but are not strictly limited to post-feminist
resexualization of the underclass, athletics as a repressed cathartic
marketing tool for consumer strategies of denial, the rage that
underlies the style and fashion of cynical apathy in a culture devoid
of thoughtful political discourse, the regressive relegation of black
self-expression to forms marketed as underground mostly consumed by
young whites, and the utter and complete abandonment of so-called
"domestic policies" of urban valuation concatenated with and catalyzed
by the promotion of the illusion of a '50s style Golden Age of
American hegemony."

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


The first sound in the title being a general indication of expansion, overflowing, growth or as Riddley would say "biggering and biggering." The second being the opposite: shrinkination, contraction, even unto the point of disappearing. The first sound is well accompanied by a gesture of palms open, arms moved from close to the body outward, roughly parallel to the ground. The second by the thumb and pointer making a pinching motion.

This is profound. The *reason* it *is* profound *is because* expansion and contraction are the two states. Abstractly we like to think it's possible that neither expansion nor contraction is happening. But that's in our imagination. In reality, we are either expanding or contracting.

I don't know. Maybe that's nonsense.

Ah, but, for example, the trick would then be to find a way to be expansive in the winter. Or to accept contraction. For example. Or to think of it in an entirely different way and be done with it.

Walk with Sponsor tomorrow at 8 am, court at 10:15, radio at 1.

The un snuck out of here at 3:30 in the morning. I remember vaguely thinking maybe she was just arriving. Then I woke at 5 or something in the dark and figured she was right there but of course when I *expanded* into that side of the bed there was lots of room for expansion. One of those moments like when we take a nap from say 4 in the afternoon to about 8 at night and it's gotten dark by the time we wake up and we're convinced it's time to get up and go to work.

Speaking of which...

Monday, September 25, 2006

general studies

Step 4- at the moment, taking general free written statements and writing descriptions of whatever the snapshot is that comes up. My emotional writing characterized by the Sponsor as a buffer for the real stuff going on underneath, which is tangible, plot and description, the Story.

Counting dreams. Jonas music. 4+5+4+5+2+4+5+4+5+2. For example. Or 3+4+3+4+3+4+3+3+4+3+4+3+4+3. For another. One section has two different compound meters in different cycles and I get to have fun playing 2/4 the entire time.

I got my clock cleaned at poker Friday. Tris: “Let’s do a $5 buy in with $25 in chips, no limit texas hold ‘em kind of thing.” None of anything that I know or try in tournament style play worked. Lost $15.

Radio: my first full length show in three weeks due to fundraiser. Oh boy oh boy oh boy.

Unnarrator: asleep. Seems like there could be a big decision today about her employment. I wonder what the not black and white path would be? Hard to think that way for her with the Type A boss. Title of email received at 11:00 pm on Sunday from Type A: “Are you still with us?” Dude, you have no fuckin’ idea.

Opera: Training workshop last Saturday. Orff approach to teaching music. It’s all pentatonic scales. The teacher kept saying the 4th and 7th sound “bad.” I got to keep my mouth shut, cringe, and glance over at Jonas with an eyeroll or grin.

Reporter: Performing arts calendar today. Oh boy.

Cacti: they go outside for the first day in quite a while today. It was 39F last night. Keep fantasizing about cheap land in the middle of nowhere and a greenhouse and a little business on ebay at first. But this kind of set up would probably preclude what? Social life, musical life, AA life. Santa Fe is a ridiculous place to try to live. The snow on the Sangres is like a sick joke. Pay for heat on Santa Fe wages. Good luck puny earthling.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

sunday bloody sunday

Rrake rehearsal. A ten piece with compositions by Chris Jonas; I’m one of two drummers, there’s two bassists (acoustic and electric) and then there’s…6 other musicians. Sitara on violin, CK Barlow on rhythm guitar and effects, and Chris on sax. Oh yeah, Josh Smith on sax too. Milton Villarubia III, drums, Paul Brown Bass, Jeremy Bleich bass, Dino on percussion and effects. Dense and thorny, intricate and tricky.

So what’s it like to be inclined to rescue or be heroic and not have that as a live option? Well it’s interesting. What’s it like to believe that people have the absolute freedom to kill themselves and to love someone who’s making plans every now and again? Interesting as well. You are inclined to do everything in your power to keep that person around, yet you know there’s nothing you can do. Well, you can imagine that person gone and get as close as possible to how much you love that person and feel the chest-opening sadness of the deal. Clutch them almost bone-breakingly while they gasp “I want to go home, I want my grandma, I want my cat, I did everything wrong, I have never done anything right, I want a vanilla coke” and then make them come home with you and make them eat veggie sticks, birthday cake, take their pills, drink their ginger ale. It can’t be that someone who is alive, heart pounding, desirous, full of wit and tenderness and spirit, vibrant and bloody can also in an instant simply be gone. Vanished. Oh yes it can. This is the nature of it. We are always right next to death in every moment; we’re just used to thinking of things as permanent or that the end is so far off that it’s unthinkable. Being with Dying is the name of the book that the unreliable narrator is ghost writing, and we are always being with dying, we’d just rather not think about it. Even when we blithely say “Oh, I know I’ll die someday, and so will you,” we don’t “know it in our bones,” as the un-narrator puts it. When we do know it in our bones what then? My experience is that I am called back to what is real. It’s past the illusions of identity and the projections of home onto possessions, surroundings, the body. I’m just being. Everything else will be stripped away. The true and the reliable is still there. I don’t know. God we call it.

“Have you tried prayer?” I asked. I pray all the time now. Essentially, “Help! And thank you.” With no clear understanding of who or what I’m praying to. Amazing that such an action that sounds so vague in words has such repeated efficacy. “God is either everything or nothing” says our Gnostic patriarch, Bill W. I said to my self “let’s just have an open mind. Entertain the possibility that it’s all true. That more will be revealed and the only thing we need is functional humility, willingness, the open mind.” And it’s enough. Mystery. Go figure.

There’s nothing to do. We are literally incapable of imagining what will happen. Not as a defect or deficit of our powers. We just don’t have the imaginal capacity and accepting that is oddly comforting. I’m not in charge. Everything is God’s business. The only things I need to do are already happening. As Ornette Coleman said in an interview in the NYT the other day, in reference to a Jewish singer of sacred songs: “what he is singing about is what he is singing to.” God is everything even when we are adamantly asserting “I am not that.” That too is the gift given to know that we, in fact, are.

It’s a shame it all comes out sounding fairly esoteric and mystical, since it’s the only thing ever going on.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

communication breakdown

One of the startling features of sobriety in its early stages (which is perhaps every day for the rest of one's life) is the complete reconfiguration or outright obliteration of patterns long used in relating with others. The admission of powerlessness extends to everything, including arenas where our most tried and true control strategies have long held sway, in particular in the arena where we can be most hurt which for me is definitely relations.

For example, let’s say I’m involved with someone who disappears and refuses to communicate. The features have everything to do with abandonment and all of my control strategies around abandonment are liable to kick in. Rage, masked as a distant coldness, is bound to follow hard on some initial period of pursuing that which retreats from me. Faced with being abandoned, I would be inclined to completely suppress my entire experience in order to “get the person back.” But ultimately this submergence of who I think I am and what I am feeling causes a backlash of rage, of “becoming irritated and refusing to talk,” of passive aggressive withdrawal, silence, dishonesty, etc. The book is already closed at this point, baby. I might still be a body in the room but I am so far gone you’d think I lived on a different planet. It’s a control strategy for me, this “you can’t fire me, I quit” stance. The reified feeling of it, its substantial heaviness, is reinforcement for the core belief: You are completely and entirely alone and unloved. Anything happening that seems to call that core belief into question is an illusion, when the core belief is operating. So if someone I love disappears I have my old games and old internal conversations all set to go, worn in deep old familiar antediluvian grooves.

In sobriety it’s like watching those things happen while at the same time investigating the possibility of believing new beliefs and reacting in new ways. The strange aspect of life sober is that the old ways are fully present. Sometimes of course they are just operating unconsciously the way they always have, without even a hint of recognition. But more often there’s a consciousness standing apart from all those old dominoes, observing, and considering “well, what if what you think is happening isn’t? What if you don’t know the whole story and don’t have to know the whole story?”

Friday, September 22, 2006

Santa Fe Poker chapter 3

Here's some of the games that are frequently dealt.

Non-wild card games:

Texas Hold Em High Half Pot
This is standard Texas Hold Em except the betting limit is half of whatever is in the pot. About once or twice a session, betting can really heat up. Early round betting (capped at 50 cents) very rarely gets many people to fold, so you have to have a hand that holds up against draws. It's more common to be heads up only for the river, and whoever is still in there has been drawing, so it's easy to lose by then even if you had them beat along the way.

Regular Omaha
This is basically the four hole card high/low 8 or better game where you must play two cards from your hand in combination with the 5-card board. This is one of the only "cards speak" split pot games, that is, players don't declare but show their cards. A major difference from standard Omaha is that the best low is a 6432A, not a 5432A (in other words, straights and flushes must play high). Betting is usually regular, but sometimes quarter or half pot. If there is no low, it can be tricky determining high hand values even when the board looks threatening, as players tend to stay in high with just about anything. If on the other hand you have a low but it can be beaten, it probably will be. Fold.

Three-Card Texas Hold Em High/Low Quarter Pot
This variation on Texas sees each player dealt three hole cards. The best high splits with the best low. Betting can be up to a quarter of what's in the pot. It's difficult to know what the best high hand is from reading the board, since a player could have a flush with a two-suited board, or a well-hidden fullhouse (let's say hole cards are QQ7 and the board at the turn is Q547, for example). As a result, the best hole cards to get are three solid low cards such as A23, A34, A26, 234, etc. It's not a qualified low, that is, "8 or lower," so three low cards that work together without forming a straight will often take half the pot. Hand values high are more risky here, with two pair sometimes taking it and other times very strong, well-hidden hands being out there. If the betting heats up you just have to use your intuition as to whether it's a battle for the low or high. And two low cards with no help high, such as A29 with a board of 34K faces 10 bad cards at the turn and river (three aces, three 2's and 4 5's, although the A2345 straight could win high). A very tough game to read.

Old West (Traditional 5-card draw)
What can be said that hasn't already been said about this ancient poker game? Bluffing, overbetting the pot and check raising can be common. I generally stay out of the way unless I'm dealt at least JJ or better.

Brag/Pippi Longstocking/Pippi Stopsmoking/etc.
This is the three card poker game dealt in the film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Three hole cards are dealt to each player. To open, you must match the ante. Betting is pot limit from then on. The best hand is three 3's, followed by three of a kind from aces down, followed by a three card straight flush, a three card straight, a three card flush, high pair, high card. Note that a three card straight beats a three card flush. Catching a flush or better is rare. Most bets are bluffs or semibluffs with a pair or an ace. But not always, of course. Since it's pot limit, it sometimes gets some action, but rarely from more than three players.

That's basically it for non-wild card games. The most common wild card games come in the next installment.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

to do list

usually gets lost. The tendency is to make one of these and then set it aside, as if entering something on the list is the exact equivalent of getting it done. It's in the same category of a calendar or datebook or planner for me. Everything scheduled is actually in my head all the time. I've tried to use an "organizer" and I'm just not organized enough to remember to use it, keep it with me, refer to it, etc.

call mary about getting a Shannon Jackson show/workshop to happen here
rearrange room for overwintering cacti
contact IRS again about required paperwork for 5 year old tax debt
car: muffler, windshield, tune up, door, tires
radio show
4th step specifics
practice drums
get comps for play to review
business cards to Candyman for drum lessons
write novel, lol, hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

I'll make the list tomorrow and get started Friday or Monday, I promise.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Santa Fe poker chapter 2

So, why is it "incorrect" to repeatedly stay in for one half of a split pot? And how do players consistently manage to win money despite doing this?

Obviously, the whole pot odds thing has to be adjusted if you are only going one way. If there's $4.00 in the pot and it costs you 50 cents to call your pot odds aren't 8:1 but 4:1, since you are only angling for half.

Let's say there's 4 betting rounds 25/25/50/1.00, a fairly common scenario, and 5 players in for the first two rounds, 4 for the third and three for the fourth. Total pot is $8 by the showdown, so if you're going one way you stand to win $4. You've put in $2! so by expected pot odds you need to stand a better than 2:1 chance to do better than breaking even. Obviously the number of times you actually have a better than 2:1 chance of winning half the pot are less frequent than the number of times you are in there til the end, so how do you win under these conditions?

Here's a few ways: you go solo because your two opponents at the end are going the same way you are and you beat their hands. You win the one way games a few times-- there are a few games that are not split hi/lo pot games, and these often have larger pots. So these one way take downs replenish the chips from all the other chasing and split pot hands. You force the number three player out and agree to split the pot with your heads up opponent. (This happens fairly often). You fold early in many hands when the odds are thin and you see any of the cards you need are not so live. Or, the opposite: you expect huge variance by staying in til the end on almost every hand, angling to play the players rather than your cards.

I personally don't like the headache of that and tend to play fairly tight. As a result I don't win a lot but I also don't tend to lose a lot. Tight play in split pot games with no qualified low and lots of wild cards, etc., would seem to make perfect sense, but even a cursory look at the math shows that playing tight means you are bound to lose money over the long run, even if only a little.

But then, a lot of what we do for entertainment loses us money. Right?

Next time an overview of some of the games and maybe a start on a poker glossary (mostly the slang creations of one of the finest home game poker players I've ever encountered).


Off to Lamy today to photograph some of the cacti down there. O. imbricata, phaeacantha, polyacantha, polyacantha v. trichophora, engelmannii (I think), Echinocereus viridiflorus and triglochidiatus, hopefully Toumeya papyracantha. There's some very odd looking Opuntias down there as well. Who knows.

Lamy has a sort of ghost town feel to it, despite the stunning degree of development going on in that direction. Just across the amtrak line by the hill that rises from the plain there it seems fairly unspoiled, especially when you start to rise.

Good place to do some step 4 writing.

Monday, September 18, 2006

thanks be to jeebus

Turns out if you type too fast and for some reason make the attempt to manually type the URL of this blog and misspell "blogspot" as "blogpsot" you get directed here:

Amazing Bible Studies


thomas edison battery oil

Who knew there was such a thing? The small weathered clear glass bottle found along the railroad siding in Lamy says there used to be, anyway. Who knows when? These people do:

Antique Bottles

I was kind of hoping the bottle was worth thousands of dollars. Ah well.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Santa Fe Poker chapter 1

On to more important issues: The Santa Fe Poker Variations. A loosely serialized description, in random installments.

First: the key role of high/low declaration games. “Declaration” is that moment at the showdown when you indicate whether you are trying to win the best high hand or the best low hand. The system here is to hold your fist out over the table, clutching one chip if you are declaring high, no chip if you are declaring low, and two chips if you think you have both the best high and the best low. After about 8 years of playing pretty much once a week, I am beginning to get a sense of declaration as a play, without regard to my actual hand. I used to declare solely based on my cards, without also trying to figure which way the other players still in at the end were probably declaring. This is safe, and fits my overall style anyway, which is generally to either have a real hand or not be in. Over time I slowly noticed that people stay in with pretty bad hands if they feel they might “go solo,” that is, be the only one declaring either high or low. So the mysterious intuitive and observant sense of which way players are going to declare can be refined and give you a stronger shot at more frequent split pots, even if you haven’t made a very good hand. This is especially true in three way hands at the end, which at a 5 person table is fairly common.

There is a distinct difference between low hand values and high hand values in many of the games. Hand values in general are extremely tricky, depending on wild cards, exposed cards, community cards, etc. Low hand values are often far more easy to determine than high. As a result, the general trend in many games is for most of the players to be trying to build a low hand. The best low hand here is a “64,” i.e. A2346. With no wild cards this is called a “natural 64” or a “natural” or even just a “natch.”

Low hand details: “the math”: two competing lows are compared by counting down from the highest ranked card. For example, a 6543A loses to a 6542A, since the 2 is lower than the 3.

Role of wild cards: The lower the wild card(s) the better: a hand of 643(wild 2)A loses to 6432(wild ace). A 64 with one wild card beats a 64 with two or more wild cards no matter the suits.

Crucial role of “suit tiebreakers”: two competing low hands that are identical in every respect are compared by suits starting with the 6. Highest to lowest suit: spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs. So, for example, with two “natural 64’s” 6d432A vs. 6c432A, the one with the 6 of clubs wins. In fact, a “natural 64” (no wild cards) with the 6 of clubs is unbeatable, and will always win half the pot. It’s something like the equivalent of a “natural” straight flush (or 5 aces high in a wild card game). If two 64’s share a 6 (because the 6 is a community card as in texas hold ‘em or Omaha) then the suit of the 4 determines the winner, etc.

The vast majority of hands dealt are high/low declaration games. So understanding the mechanics of low hands and getting savvy at playing lows and figuring out what’s happening low around the table is crucial. One of the facets of play that’s “incorrect” from a technical standpoint is the infrequency of so-called “two way” hands, also called “scoops.” The pros say that the best strategy for winning in split-pot games is to focus on hands that can potentially go both ways, taking down the entire pot. But in the Santa Fe game there is a lot of jockeying for half the pot without regard to “scooping,” and two way hands are quite rare. Next time I’ll write about the investment vs. winnings math of this one way play and analyze the positives and negatives of it.

chronicle of paralysis

Gee, do you think chest high weeds abnormally biomassed in a solid swath right outside one’s door might contribute to respiratory distress syndrome? I keep noticing this mini tropical rainforest of probably ragweed and thinking “I oughter really should yank them there suckers up” and then I. Don’t.

Project: make a list for a few weeks of all the things that pop into my head that I “should do” and don’t do. See if a pattern exists. See if perhaps behavioral change is in order or thought-habit change. Prior to lobotomy.

Then there’s the recurring experience of resistance, doing something in spite of resistance, and being glad that I did it. The step 10 workshop yesterday a fine example. Somewhere in the 12 and 12 Bill says “pain is the touchstone of all spiritual growth.” For a coddled Bohemic of the likes of me sometimes the greatest pain is doing something I think I don’t want to do. Or not doing something I think I want to do. This business of wanting versus not wanting to do this or that is tiresome.

A conversation with The Sponsor (I really ought to come up with another nick for him, something that reflects more the 360 degree value of the relationship…Obi Wan? Merlin? Psychopomp? Hermes Trismegistus? Basho? The Fool? The Emperor? Witch Doctor? Hmmmm)- anyway the conversation is around how we construe what we “want” and what we “don’t want.” This arises from time to time regarding the oft-heard “for many years I wanted to quit drinking but I could not.” Hermes says “no, you did not want to quit drinking. You thought you wanted to.” If we define ourselves by what we want or don’t want (if that’s one arena where we get a reassuring sense of identity) then, of course, it is an illusion, another example of us thinking we know who we are. Not knowing and not having to know provides a little occasional room to observe where we actually put our attention. This gives us an opportunity to experience more clarity about what we want or don’t want. It’s easy to lay claim to a desire or preference or aversion while behaving in ways obviously counter to the claim.

Again: I believe what people say and ignore what they do. This goes for my own head.