Wednesday, January 31, 2007

New and Improved

The second box of vinyl arrived from my friend Emery. Now playing: The World Saxophone Quartet Live at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, December 1985, an '86 release on Black Saint. Somehow my ear has been tuned to pick out the now-clear separation between Hemphill and Lake, which in past hearings of the WSQ was never particularly clear to me.

The list, ones I've heard:

Oscar Peterson in Russia- two lp's with Jake Hanna and Orsted-Pedersen...more on Peterson in an upcoming post
David Murray Trio, The Hill- Joe Chambers and Richard Davis
David Murray, Spirituals- Dave Burrell, Fred Hopkins, Ralph Peterson, Jr.
Metheny/Coleman, Song X- On first re-listen, I don't like it. Can't stand Metheny's playing. Go figure.
Oliver Lake, Heavy Spirits- unbelievably gorgeous. Olu Dara playing some lines clearly influenced by Freddie Hubbard; quite surprising. More on this recording in the future too, probably.
Albert Mangelsdorff, Hamburger Idylle- with Elvin Jones, Eddie Gomez, and the unfortunate Wolfgang Dauner on piano...otherwise, killer stuff.
Albert Mangelsdorff, The Wide Point- even more killer, no piano this time; a wonderful multiphonic version of Mood Indigo

not listened to yet:

Fats Navarro w/Tadd Dameron- 2 records on Milestone
Archie Shepp and Orsted-Pedersen- Looking at Bird (duets, 1981)
Jimmy Smith, The Sermon!
Sun Ra, Nothing Is
Ronald Shannon Jackson/Decoding Society, Eye on You
RSJ/Decoding Society, Decode Yourself!
Arthur Blythe, Illusions
Dizzy Gillespie, In the Beginning (amazing looking 2 record set, recordings from 1945 and 1946)
Rashied Ali/Frank Lowe, Duo Exchange- who knew there was a Lowe/Ali duet recording?
The Genius of Bud Powell- 2 records on Verve
Duke Ellington/Ella Fitzgerald, The Stockholm Concert, 1966
Charlie Parker, One Night at Birdland (2 records, June 30th 1950)
The Bix Beiderbecke Legend, 2 records on RCA, mostly Bix early with Goldkette and Whiteman
Bill Evans, Montreux II, live 1970
Dizzy Reece, Manhattan Project- I'm not even sure I've ever heard Dizzy Reece.
Eddie Palmieri, Sueno
Eddie Palmieri, Palo Pa Rumba
John Coltrane, Coltrane Time (the legendary session with Cecil vague memory is it didn't really work, musically, so I look forward to hearing it again)
Henry Threadgill Sextet, Just the Facts and Pass the Bucket
The Quintet: VSOP (Hancock, Hubbard/Carter/Shorter/Williams)
James Blood Ulmer, Freelancing
Fats Waller, Piano Solos 1929-1941
Teddy Wilson, Statements and Improvisations 1934-1942
Lester Young/Roy Eldridge, The Jazz Giants '56 (2 records, Verve)
Fletcher Henderson: A Study in Frustration (4 records from Columbia, looks like it spans 1923-1928. What possessed Columbia to put this amazing set out?)
Oliver Lake/Julius Hemphill, duets "Buster Bee" on Sackville, 1978
Charles Mingus, Mingus and Duke- a 1957 performance and a 1964 performance
Freddie Hubbard, Here to Stay- one of the old double album Blue Note reissues, including Hub Cap and some previously unreleased stuff
Elvin Jones, The Prime Element- another Blue Note reissue double album; what's strange is none of the material was released before this album was put out...
Jelly Roll Morton, 1923/24, includes all of the classic Gennett recordings
Lee Morgan, The Sidewinder
David Murray Big Band, Live at Sweet Basil, Vols. 1 and 2...I was there 2 of the 3 nights, at the callow age of 23.

As with the last box, this list astounds me. I haven't included about 9 records that I have but that are in unplayable condition, replaced with pristine copies. Thank god Emery not only has impeccable taste but also took meticulously excellent care of his vinyl (as opposed to me over the years, especially a trip across the country in August with 115F temps and the resulting catastrophic warping).

I'd write more but now I'm checking out Dameron's arrangements and Navarro's lead lines.....

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Talking with the QT

Quincy Troupe visits town February 15 courtesy of The Lannan Foundation and the Institute of American Indian Arts, and I'm working up a preview piece for the Reporter. I reached him at "the Historic Sundy House" hotel in Delray Beach Florida, where he's staying while participating in a poetry reading and workshop. (The Artist in America very occasionally snags these luxurious gigs...) "When would be a good time to interview you?" I asked. "Right now! I haven't even unpacked my bags, just got here, just walked in the door. I'll be here until Sunday but we can do the interview now!"

That was a surprise. I hadn't done my homework. I know Troupe from two books: the Miles Davis autobiography and Troupe's own account of the experience of working with Mr. Davis, Miles and Me. I remembered vague trumpetings (sorry) about his poetry, including that he had won the Heavyweight Slam Championship at the Taos Poetry Circus a couple of times (1994, 1995).

Usually I try to keep my "look good" happening. This time, for some reason, I heard myself say "well, I'd love to do the interview right now, but I haven't done my homework-- I've never read any of your poetry and I know you only through the Miles Davis books." (There was that other little voice, in my head, saying "what the hell are you doing?? don't say that!!" etc.).

Fortunately Troupe found that hilarious and, referring to his writing career as "schizophrenic," he launched into the interview at full steam. An hour and fifteen minutes later the proceedings temporarily concluded. I hope we can also do a prerecorded discussion of music that I can run on my radio show. The print interview will run February 14th and I'll link to it. Troupe was by turns hilarious, passionate, insightful, distractable and had all the energy of a Sunny Murray performance.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

You call yourself a jazz musician?

The first box of vinyl finally arrived two days ago from my old elementary school friend, Emery. The deal is that he sends the records he has transferred to digital and I pay shipping. It's a windfall kind of deal considering the sonic riches he's tossing over my way. Like winning the lottery.

For now I'll just list and maybe make a few brief comments.

In the first box, listened to already:

The Duke Ellington Carnegie Hall Concert, January 1943 (three records)
Money Jungle- Ellington, Roach, Mingus
Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: The Ellington Suites
Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins
Other Aspects- Eric Dolphy
The Apartment- Dexter Gordon Quartet
As Long as There's Music- Charlie Haden/Hampton Hawes
Sargasso Sea- John Abercrombie and Ralph Towner
Album Album- Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition (Purcell, David Murray, Rufus Reid, Howard Johnson)

Big news: prior to this afternoon I had never heard Ellington's _Black, Brown and Beige_, which is included in a spliced version on the above-mentioned Carnegie Hall album. I had also never heard the Ellington Suites. I should go back to age 12 and redact every single time I said I was a "jazz fan" or a "jazz musician." As I've mentioned before, every time I hear Ellington now I'm blown away, and Miles Davis's statement to Leonard Feather that everyone "should get down on their knees and thank Duke" sounds more and more reasonable.

Is there a stranger album in the entire history of "jazz" than Dolphy's Other Aspects? And to add strange to strangest, it turns out the lead composition is not titled Jim Crow but Personal Statement, and is by none other than Bob James. (And the vocalist is not a woman but a countertenor named David Schwartz).

Album Album---- from the days of free-wheeling multifaceted small group jazz albums (1984) that weren't shy about enthusiasm, interesting compositions and arrangements and spirit. This is sort of a "standard" jazz album that is endlessly entertaining while at the same time taking creative risks. What the fuck happened to those?

Sargasso Sea- O dark dark dark! I had completely forgotten the moody, brooding pull this murky album had for me when I was in high school. The Sorrows of Young Werther indeed. It's also gorgeous and inventive, if somewhat leaden and/or capricious in spots.

Dexter Gordon makes me happy. So does drummer Albert "Tootie" Heath, who takes flight on The Apartment.

Also in the first box, not yet listened to:

A Love Supreme- Recorded live in concert Europe 1965
Virgin Beauty- OC and Jerry, dude! I already have this on vinyl but it's unplayable
Body Meta- this OC I also have on vinyl but it's unplayable
Ornette Coleman: Town Hall 1962- bass, three violins, cello and drums...45 years ago
Benny Carter: Jazz Giant- BC with Ben Webster, Frank Rosolino, Andre Previn/Jimmy Rowles, Barney Kessel, Leroy Vinnegar and Shelley Manne
Marion Brown: Solo Saxophone- live recording from 1977 on the megalabel "Sweet Earth Records."
Porto Novo- Marion Brown with Han Bennink and Maarten van Regteben Altena, also one I have that's unplayable and that I remember as being absolutely ripping
In the Tradition- Anthony Braxton w/Montoliu, Pedersen/Heath
The Great Pretender- Lester Bowie, one of his outings I completely missed somehow
The Third Decade- Art Ensemble
Phase One- Art Ensemble, another one of mine that got destroyed. Especially looking forward to hearing "Ohnedaruth" again.
Albert Ayler in Greenwich Village- another one I used to have that got trashed.

I think there's 3 or 4 more boxes coming. Rants, raves, revisitations and re-evaluations forthcoming...

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

facing the music

Another change in music criticism brought about by the internet: you might just invite a rebuttal from the musician. On the site (see sidebar, look for post Unity: A Lack Thereof-New Year's Eve 2006, William Parker and Friends. Check out the 117 comments so far....), Dr. Yusef Copeland wrote a negative review of a live show featuring William Parker, Roy Campbell and others. Lo and behold, Mr. Campbell took the time to wade into the fray. (My grandfatherly advice to Campbell was to quote William Blake: "The eagle never lost so much time as when he submitted to learn of the crow." Wasn't that clever of me?)

This sort of thing may have happened all the time on the NY scene, for example, but there's something interesting in the breakdown of a wall that often stood in public-- that between critic and musician. Who knows how many times musicians have decked writers outside the Village Vanguard or wherever, but the debate rarely got conducted publicly.

On the internet, for example when I post here, I'm aware that whoever it is I'm writing about might see it. The only change that brings about is for me to take responsibility for my opinions, to avoid the slimy ad hominem and the insinuated backhand, formerly in great currency among jazz writers. (a writer on Miles Davis's On the Corner when it was first released, in a two star Downbeat review: "I hate to think that anyone would be so easily pleased as to dig this record to any extent.")

Monday, January 22, 2007

Everyone's a critic....

Literally, according to Brian Raftery of, in an NPR story by Jacob Ganz from January 5 with the headline "Voice Music Poll Undermined by Internet":

"I feel like it makes a little more sense for an online property to be doing this," says Brian Raftery, an editor of, a blog in the Gawker media network. In November, Idolator announced a critics poll of its own, to be called Jackin' Pop. Raftery and his co-editor Maura Johnston -- like many bloggers -- both work from home. In a Manhattan cafe, just a dozen blocks away from The Village Voice offices where Harvilla will put together Pazz and Jop, Raftery argues that the web has changed the very nature of music criticism.

"I think right now the world of music criticism -- whether it's blogs or alt weeklies or newspapers putting their stuff online for free everyday -- the day to day, hour to hour metabolism of talking about music is only found on the Internet," Raftery says."

Of course the Village Voice poll referenced in the headline is Pazz and Jop, long the pet project of Robert Christgau, fired from the Voice after the paper changed owners. The article continues:

"Robert Christgau, who says he will vote in both polls this year, has been a witness to that change. He's seen the critical establishment grow from just a few dozen writers into a new world where everyone with an Internet connection can sample the music of the day and post an opinion on it. When everyone's a critic, what's the point of a critics' poll?

"Has the Internet made the rationalization of critical opinion easier? Not in my opinion. I don't think so. Because there's simply too much for anybody to digest. You need gatekeepers," Christgau says."

So on the one hand you have Raftery's "day to day, hour to hour metabolism" and on the other you have Christgau's "rationalization of critical opinion." (We'll ignore the "gatekeeper" comment.)

Never mind that the edge had long dulled for the Pazz and Jop poll, long before Al Gore invented that new fangled interweb thang. (Admittedly, last year's Pazz and Jop, topped by Kanye West, had a few curveballs, including both Astor Piazzolla and the Pat Metheny/Ornette Coleman reissue Song X topping Shakira's Oral Fixation Vol. 2.) Never mind also that Idolator's poll, oddly titled Jackin' Pop, is as dull and predictable as music polls in general are these days. If Jackin' Pop is supposed to represent some sort of blogger revolution, it's a dismal failure. The greatest thing about the music blog universe is the proliferation of unusual, outre, under-distributed and underground music. The Jackin' Pop poll reads pretty much exactly as one would expect any major media poll to read. (Although it is interesting to disaggregate Jackin' Pop's demographic, perhaps one very effective tool at the "rationalization" of critical opinion that doesn't require a "gatekeeper," just a pull down menu. For example, by age, the under 30 voters have Clipse, Joanna Newsome and Ghostface Killah in the top 5 albums, the over 40 voters pile it on for Dylan, Springsteen, Dixie Chicks, etc. Cross reference at a glance to media outlet: newspaper critics? There's Dylan and the Dixie Chicks again (admittedly with Clipse and Ghostface Killah in the top 5 as well). Alt.weeklies? TV on the Radio, baby. Finally, blogs? Almost identical to the top 5 albums selected by writers under 30. Draw what conclusions you will).

The point is that Christgau has a point. There is too much to digest, even poking around simply in the tiny internet realms of creative improvised and composed music, let alone the entire field of jazz. Entirely by accident, I've stumbled on orgasmic encomia about Chris Botti shows and strange claims referencing recently deceased Michael Brecker as the greatest tenor saxophonist since Coltrane. I've read essays by the children of jazz greats (Professor Darius Brubeck) calling into question the legacy and artistic integrity of geniuses such as Ornette Coleman. (Whose 2006 release, Sound Grammar fares thusly on Jackin' Pop: invisible except for voters over 40, who placed it at 16). I've waded through jaw droppingly passionate 60-comment firefights waged between musicians, critics and onlookers over the musical merit of figures like Bill Dixon, who, no matter his uncontestable brilliance is virtually unknown to the general public. The sea of words swells every day and it does sometimes feel...indigestible. Comment strings are howlingly funny sometimes, simply idiotic at others. (Witness someone named simply "jazzlunatic" responding with typical internet bluntness to Taylor Ho Bynum's guest post at destination-out, for example.)

On the other hand, I have grown fond of Raftery's "day to day, hour to hour metabolism." In the short time that I've been checking into jazz and so-called "free jazz" blogs, I've had many eye and ear opening experiences. But what the NPR article neglects to mention is the impact of the audio blog, the MySpace page, any and all internet outlets where the music itself is instantly accessible, without middleman and with a minimum (or complete absence) of critical opinion. The most amazing resource is the mp3, certainly. Who needs a music critic when you can download the music yourself and simply listen? This alone has changed the nature of music criticism. Let's say you've occasionally heard ecstatic murmurings about a legendary genius, but have never heard any music by him or her, maybe someone like Japanese madman Karou Abe He's out there (on the net I mean) and thanks to Web 2.0 you can hear him, see for yourself if the myths and legends are borne out.

Perhaps it's underground and already marginalized forms of music that ultimately will benefit most from the blogosphere. From this perspective, it's laughable that the NPR article makes a big deal out of a critic's poll on a blog owned by a media company challenging the supremacy of a critic's poll in the Village Voice.

The NPR article concludes:

"The Village Voice will release this year's Pazz and Jop in February. Idolator's list is scheduled to be posted today. Young acts like TV on the Radio and Joanna Newsom are expected to do well.

But don't count out the veterans. Asked to predict a winner, both Harvilla and Raftery picked Modern Times, the 31st studio album from Bob Dylan."

Let me guess: both Harvilla and Raftery are, like yours truly, over 40.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


From Joe Phillips' Pulse, this interesting composer's symposium. (With my own attempt at lucidity interspersed...)

PULSE Composer’s Salon #1

The Audience

“The public is a thick skinned beast which must be continually beaten to let it know you are there.”—Walt Whitman

“Historically, the artist has been a slave, an unregarded wage earner, a courtier, clown and sycophant, a domestic, finally an unknown citizen trying to arrest the attention of a huge anonymous mass public and compel it to learn his name.” —Jacques Barzan from The Use and Abuse of Art

"I. In an interview (New Voices by Geoff and Nicola Walker Smith, Amadeus Press, 1995), Laurie Anderson says that her work/composition is not complete until it has been observed or heard [and subsequently] evaluated by an audience. She goes on to say that the measure of a good work of art is one that (as you experience it) “makes you want to jump up and get out of there” and go and create something yourself. How do you view this statement (especially in relationship toward how your own compositions are received by the public)?"

Anderson's first comment makes me think about completion more than anything else. My understanding is that Anderson is not an improvising artist. For me, as an improvising composer (not that I'm entirely satisfied with that phrase), my experience is that pieces emerge out of practice/rehearsal/performance opportunities, take a few different shapes, sometimes hang around as themes or get transfigured or transliterated into different formats and settings, and then mysteriously (either abruptly or slowly) disappear. The life of certain "composed parts" of an improvised piece peregrinates through many audiences, live and recorded. I just played some solo piano stuff I did in 1986 for the unnarrator and it had a completely different feel to it than I had ever heard before. So for me completion isn't really possible, at least not on my own terms. With this in mind, and remembering (for example) that a friend of mine has a huge box full of Cecil Taylor scores which have never been played or have only had performance in sections, I end up wondering about what Anderson means by "completion." On the one hand, there's a lovely aspect to performance, especially in composition with significant improvised sections and a huge amount of leeway even in the reading of composed sections. Performance always has mysterious energies. Things arise that were inconceivable in rehearsal. Energies are unleashed or redirected. My favorite phenomenon in live performance is the long silence after a piece is finished. If that's there, it feels that sound, space and time have worked themselves out into the mystery they are.

On the second comment, I generally agree that this interactive, inspirational muse experience, this sense of having a fire lit under one's ass to make something, seems common to my experience of many of the works I admire the most. But I wonder about it because I am also sometimes just a consumer. There are art forms that are good to be there for, like dance, but they don't always make me want to run out and make something.

II. One premise of the book Hole in Our Soul by Martha Bayles (Free Press, 1994) is that with the rise of modernism (in art) in the early 20th century, there came a disconnect with audiences—an “antagonism” between the artistic creator and the consumer of the art. Before this perverse (her words) turn of events, the relationship between creator and consumer was not so great. (At least in jazz) high art and the commercial and popular were not always mutually exclusive. As Gary Giddins states, people like Duke Ellington or Louis Armstrong had the “…ability to balance the emotional gravity of the artist with the communal good cheer of the entertainer…” However, with the advent of such movements as Dadaism or Abstract Expressionism in painting, the literary explorations of Gertrude Stein, Virginia Wolff, and James Joyce, and in music the dodecaphonic and serial explorations of Arnold Schoenberg, chance and aleatory music of John Cage and in jazz the rise of bebop and free jazz, large audiences mostly tuned out. Jazz critic Philip Larkin is quoted in Hole in Our Soul stating, “To say I don’t like modern jazz because it’s modernist art simply raises the question of why I don’t like modernist art…I dislike such things not because they are new, but because they are irresponsible exploitations of technique in contradiction of human life as we know it. This is my essential criticism of modernism, whether perpetrated by (Charlie) Parker, (Erza) Pound, or (Pablo) Picasso: it helps us neither to enjoy nor to endure.”

Do you agree or disagree with Bayles’ and/or Larkin’s statements/premises? How do you as a composer/performer, balance artistic and commercial viability in your own work? In the presentation (i.e. performances) of your works? What other composers/performers do you feel balance artistic and commercial viability well? Is this even necessary?

I heatedly, passionately disagree with Larkin. (I haven't read Bayles, but the way her thesis is stated here it sounds like a simple statement of fact, more an observation than a lament, with the caveat that the "antagonism" just arose and was not intentional in many cases). For those who are interested in more of Larkin's rant, his essay "All What Jazz?" is anthologized in Reading Jazz:A Gathering of Autobiography, Reportage and Criticism from 1919 to the Present, an excellent if cautious and generally moldy-figgish collection edited by Robert Gottlieb. ("All What Jazz?" originally appeared as the introduction to Larkin's 1970 book collecting all of his jazz reviews that he had written for The Daily Telegraph). Larkin shows himself to be an insufferable idiot, willfully hoi polloi and proudly dumb as a box of rocks. His fetishistic fondness for Bix, Louis, that good old Nawlins jass, is revealingly framed as a nostalgia for his simple minded college days. There is great, acid, biting humor in Larkin's essay and one suspects that his queeny claws-out bitch-rant is meant at least partly ironically and definitely is suffused with his usual alcohol-soaked self-loathing. Not the best milieu for any kind of insightful criticism of Modernism, let alone jazz after 1938. His two central complaints about Modernism are worth spending some time with, however. The first, the "irresponsible exploitations of technique in contradiction to life as we know it" begs the question: who the fuck is Larkin's "we"? Perhaps more to the point, what would irresponsible exploitation of technique mean?

Larkin and other critics of Modernism (not to mention the avant garde, whatever that is) fail to talk about aesthetics. This is the fatal flaw in every critique of art that focuses on the moral character of the artist, or the solipsism or self-indulgent idiosyncrasy of the artist, or the "failure of the artist to communicate," or the favorite fallback for scared, murine little-eared reactionaries of all stripes, the "charlatanism of the artist." These critiques confuse initial shock or unfamiliarity with the presence of something wrong with the art or inherently suspect about the artist's methods or intentions. The height of irresponsibility is to ignore one's own taste.

Which leads me to Larkin's second major statement: "it (Modernist art) helps us neither to enjoy nor to endure." Again, who the fuck is "us"? And again, more importantly, I'm living proof that Larkin's wrong. An Art Ensemble of Chicago performance at the 9:30 Club in DC in 1982 saved my life. For example. So did ditching school my senior year in high school and staying home reading everything by James Joyce I could get my hands on.

General things to think about:
-As a composer and/or performer how do you generate audiences for your performances? How does audience reaction to a piece affect your future writing? your programming? Do you think about the audience when writing?
-Can you recommend any composer, group, or recording that balances the artistic with the popular (or at least commercial successful)?

I generate audiences by promoting my own shows. I have sometimes felt quite discouraged by lack of audience or poor audience reaction. Discouragement has sometimes taken the form of many months or even years of not performing. (This was of course my own choice in regard to the matter). I don't think about the audience, but I do think about a few admired people.

I can't find a meaningful way to respond to the last question. It sets up a false dichotomy to begin with.

Great questions, though...look forward to more...

Sunday, January 14, 2007

RIP Turiya (and Brecker)

Sad to get the news that Alice Coltrane has passed. Surprised she was "{only" 69 years old.

Amazed by the following excerpt from an article on her on the AP wires:

"> "As fascinating — and influential — as her later music was, it
> tended to obscure the fact that she had started out as a solid,
> bebop-oriented pianist," critic Don Heckman told The Times on
> Saturday. "I remember hearing, and jamming with, her in the early '60s
> at photographer W. Eugene Smith's loft in Manhattan. At that time she
> played with a brisk, rhythmic style immediately reminiscent of Bud
> Powell.
> "Like a few other people who'd heard her either at the loft or
> during her early '60s gigs with Terry Gibbs, I kept hoping she'd take
> at least one more foray into the bebop style she played so well," he
> said.

Okay, Don Heckman.

My favorite Alice Coltrane performance is the live two album set with Reggie Workman and Roy Haynes, Transfiguration.

Just a few days ago I was listening to Billy Cobham's Crosswinds and said to myself, "Self, who is that on tenor sax?" It is, of course, Michael Brecker. Gifts come in all sorts of packages.

As for Alice Coltrane...imagine being John Coltrane's pianist after McCoy Tyner. Imagine carrying on a completely unique and immediately recognizable musical (and pianistic) style after John Coltrane's death. Yeah, Heckman, really too bad she didn't play that bop again.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

year end frenzy

I notice many blogs, music and otherwise, engage in a year end retrospective. For some reason this didn't occur to me as something to do until I visited destination-out's "Top Downloads" and Mwanji's couple of posts of what grabbed him last year and the *unbelievable* list of live shows he attended.

On the playing side, the year began with Bing's work with Circus Luminous, followed by The Miles Davis Electric Project, followed by the Live Music/Silent Film Festival, followed by work with Chris Jonas in Rrake. As predicted, things came to a sudden halt after Rrake. There is no lack of interesting projects here in Santa Fe, but the issue is sustainability. The usual pattern is a high speed ramp up involving short(ish) notice, lots of rehearsals (when possible) and a high profile appearance or two followed by months of deafening silence and zero dollars. The lack of venues, the busy lives of all of us struggling to survive, the utter lack of funds for ongoing and remunerative initiatives all contribute to this vexing pattern.

In the offing: perhaps more silent film work? Perhaps another Miles Electric configuration? Perhaps a duets concert of improvisations? Who knows.

Listening has taken many fascinating twists and turns this year, spurred largely by the radio show and the imperative of developing a library. Rediscoveries abound with many thanks to destination-out and other bloggers. Huge swaths of music that were firmly in the center of where my ears were at various times in the past, but that I somehow missed, mix with constant revisiting of work that I am hearing with new ears.

Here's a top ten list for the past year:

1. Duke. Anything and everything. I never gave Ellington's music the comprehensive hearing it deserves. In fact, the only Ellington I owned for many years was Ellington '55, an attempt by Capitol Records to position Ellington as a more commercially viable option by having him revisit great compositions. The goal this year is to continue on the quest for anything and everything Ellington did.

2. Brotherhood of Breath/Chris MacGregor. I somehow missed MacGregor's work entirely. Destination-out posted a couple of pieces from the first album. I was already somewhat familiar with Dudu Pukwana and Mongezi Feza, but I look forward to hearing more.

3. Evan Parker. In general, the Euro free scene was only represented for me by a few FMP's of the Brotzmann/Van Hove/Bennink trio and the Globe Unity Orchestra. I am glad to get closer to Parker as well as Breuker/Schlippenbach/et al.

4. Andrew Hill. This seems to be Hill's year, what with the praise for his new recording and so on. I have long had Point of Departure but it's been great hearing much more of his other work.

5. Elmo Hope. The Blue Note reissue that includes dozens of tracks is definitely head turning.

6. Cecil Taylor/Bill Dixon/Tony Oxley. This great trio recording is perhaps not warmly received by Cecil Taylor fans, but I am impressed by it. In general, rediscovering Bill Dixon has been a splendid adventure.

7. 1960s Blue Note and Capitol funky jazz. In my callow youth I always wrote this form off as "less than." In fact there is some great arranging, soloing, and a wonderful groove on much of it: Blue Mitchell, Stanley Turrentine, Cannonball, etc. Much of what passes for "contemporary jazz" is a pale and insipid imitation of this period.

8. Art Ensemble of Chicago's pre-Paris stuff. Again thanks to destination-out, Carefree, Tatas-matoes, etc. Great, funny, vital and groundbreaking.

9. Mal Waldron. A renewed appreciation for his architectural deliberateness, his note placement, his direct honesty. The duets with Steve Lacy are remarkable.

10. Randy Weston. The only exposure I had to Weston previously was African Cookbook. As is the case with many other musicians lately, the question is: How did I go so long without tons of Weston in my life?

A pattern: this seems to have been at least partly the year of the piano. Duke, Cecil, Hill, Weston, Hope, Waldron. Part of the fascination of the mid-60s Blue Notes is the pre-fusion appearances of Hancock, Corea, Zawinul.

Anyway I could list a top 100, given how much has opened up for me in music this year. I could also revisit the year's favorite rants (the jazz culture wars, for example). But I have to do the dishes.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

como se dice?

More snow last night, admittedly not all that much but ridiculous. Side benefit: softens the bone jarring drive over ruts and mounds of solid ice sometimes a foot thick. I'd be more sanguine if my 1991 Honda Civic weren't randomly and quite mysteriously stalling. It's an avant garde stall, as it only occurs when the car is well warmed up, and seems usually to be when I go a constant speed in one gear for any stretch. I have vague hopes it's dirty fuel injectors or water in the gas or the old vapor lock phenomenon (about which I of course know nothing) but also vaguely suspect there might be a more serious problem.

The most serious problem is $5,000 in unpaid federal taxes, fines and penalties from two chaotic years, 01/02, when I lived in astonishing disarray and did not file at all. I have attempted a few times to settle the matter but the IRS decided to levy my savings account over the holidays. Pathetic, really, as it had less than a grand in it and I qualify for temporarily uncollectable status but just didn't jump through the necessary hoops to get that officially settled before leaving the country. The situation makes me regret that I returned. Is there anything more romantical than a tax exiled improvising musician living in Mexico? I'm sure Mexico needs another drummer, ex-teacher and sometime writer.

Speaking of Mexican music...I have to admit my almost complete bafflement at Mexican popular song. Well, the forms represented loudly by the employees or owners of Daggett's campground on Christmas Eve, by the Mexican patriarch who parked his family in front of our tent the night after Christmas (howling out of his tinny car stereo, complemented by the constant beep beep beep of his "door open" alert), by car stereos and stores/businesses with music blasting. Most of what I could place was indistinguishable from mariachi music to my ears. Brass was unrelentingly featured, usually with a front line and a second line underpinned by tuba or synth tuba. All of the singers were male. Tonally, the singing contrasts with the brass in several different inflections that are microtonally flat or sharp, giving the music a drunken, swaggering, jangling cast. Sometimes the arrangements seemed to have a New Orleans/Chicago jass influence, sometimes more clearly a US country music feel. But otherwise it was impossible for me to hear many other influences. The accordion was not as present in the mix as I would have liked, nor the drums. The overall tonally glaring and garish effect is highlighted by the music's unrelenting IV-V-I diatonicism. Also emphasized by the inevitably horrible stereos on which I heard it, often turned up to volumes that created searing distortion.

Admittedly, a small sample that was most often a sonic assault in otherwise quiet (sometimes mystically so) surroundings. And other than the way my interest was piqued-- tonal inflection, trying to catch lyrics with my abysmal understanding of Spanish, the very occasional switch up of the formula-- my impression was of a music absolutely lacking in any trace of sophistication, isolated from the past decades of musical and technological changes elsewhere, cloyingly pathetic (encapsulating some of the feeling of the blues but with absolutely none of that music's irony). It is rare, in my smoothed out so-called open-mindedness, for me to encounter music to which I respond with blind rage. But such was my feeling at times. It's been a while since music made me want to commit violent acts. Even when I hear the worst of "jazz" (syrupy, bland, limp garbage) I don't generally want to smash things, set fire to villages, bulldoze the world to rubble. But Mexican popular music eventually led me to these dark places in my soul.

The most generous place I was able to go was "how quaint." But that racist dismissal also rankles. It is all too easy for an American to view Mexican culture and people as "quaint." I could vaguely sense (was I projecting? of course) something strained and darkling in many interactions with hotel, store and gas station employees. I kept thinking that if I knew Spanish I would not stir up this oddly polite resentment, a standoffish mutual bemusement. No doubt US "tough on immigration" policies have provided Mexican citizens with additional reason to despise a bumbling Yankee such as myself, waving pesos around and obviously using their country as a playground.

One can be aware of these many layers of political and economic injustice and still think the local popular music is horrifying.

American popular music is horrifying too. That's fair. I remain politically correct. nyaa nyaa nyaa.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Relapsin' with the Miles Davis Quintet

The above blog header was the peak of hilarity while driving the sandy flats south of Bahia de Los Angeles in Baja last week, the eversnerkling unnarrator's splendid idea for a headline, blog post header, maybe even a CD title. But there was no relapsin' to be had on this miracle of excursions, a sojourn I was formerly in the habit of using as an excuse to marinate in a veritable Sea of Cortez of tequila and beer.

There will be more about The Baja Trip. For now, I figured I would just sort of...get warmed up. Only fitting considering that mere days ago the un and I were hot and sunscreened on the long hook of playa called La Gringa and we have returned to 2 feet of snow here in the City of Holy Faith. Que lastima.

I didn't feel like listening to a shred of music of any kind almost the entire trip. One goes through these things from time to time. Moratoriums. toria? Uh, silences.

Today's show was hilarious as I simply grabbed whatever came out of the CD case and tried to make some sense of it. It was a fine moment, finally playing The Art Ensemble of Chicago's Duffvipels (well, an excerpt anyhow).

Much Baja regalia and perhaps very little music to come.