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.