Wednesday, February 28, 2007
There's slightly more subtle viewpoints than the above. For example, the "neo-mainstream" "movement" has temporarily lobotomized jazz by trying to make it hold still. Or post-modern cut and paste, collage styles have temporarily "ironified" jazz into a series of witty cliches, pastiches and homages. Or "jazz" itself died in 1959, (or 1940 or 1945, etc.) really, and ever since then god only knows what we've had. Or "contemporary jazz" musicians are too much a product of the schools and have lost any vital connection to the streets, replaced by hip hop etc.
My outrage at the misrepresentation of "free jazz" (a form which is actually fairly expensive) repeated by the guardians of culture has stirred all of these opinions (and more) up from the murky bottoms of Lake Revision.
Sometimes, when I hear so-called "contemporary jazz," I wish it (and when I'm feeling melodramatic, I) were dead. Is there any music worse than bad jazz? To my ears, the slicked out, blanched, over-produced music that passes for "jazz" in most record catalogues these days is among the worst music ever made in human history. The recent wave of "jazz chanteuses," for example, wouldn't know what to do with a great song if it popped right out of their decolletage. An acquaintance of mine recently uttered this sentence: "I'm going to Borders to buy the new Norah Jones...go home, build a fire, listen to some jazz." One of my colleagues at KSFR did a "best of 2006" "jazz" show last month and selected Bob Brookmeyer's Spirit Music CD as the "best of the best." When I started my show immediately after, a caller rang the studio to say "what the hell was that? That's quaalude jazz!"
Here's a possibly even more subtle look at jazz death: it's part and parcel of genre death in general. When I taught secondary school students, they had an unbelievably detailed and often arcane universe of hair-splitting genres. "Iron and Wine isn't Emo! It's shoegazer!" "Dude, are you nuts? Iron and Wine is anti-folk!" Etc. In this digitally-abetted explosion of genres, many of which are contained esoterically within other genres (think Chinese doll), what meaning do the big genres (jazz, classical, rock, pop) have anymore? Jazz already had an unwieldy number of subgenres as long ago as 1970. On freejazz.org, a raging debate sometimes erupts on the relative merits of "free jazz" versus "free improv." These heated arguments are highly entertaining, and a definite sign of the proliferation of hair-splitting categories about which NO ONE CARES except a small group of rabid aficionadoes. (Not that I'm not one of those rabid sorts, as I think the discussion of "free jazz" versus "free improv" is interesting....)
In a relatively conservative cultural climate such as Santa Fe, where there are several high-brow presenting organizations constantly programming the same old Western composed orchestral, vocal and chamber music (we used to be able to say "classical" and be done with it), no one blinks an eye at absolute and completely unswerving predictability. Mozart's 250th birthday went on endlessly, forever, eternally here in this largely blue-hair, rich, ossified arts market. In this context it is a RISKY VENTURE to book Wynton Marsalis. This is jazz death, more surely than any other reality.
Monday, February 19, 2007
Why does the mugshot of Dana Gioia on the "Welcome" page creep me out as much as it does?
No matter. Down to brass tacks. Let's look at the curriculum. Hmm, it appears to be nearly identical to the Ken Burns jazz documentary! And, for that matter to just about every other "history" of jazz ever written, from the perspective of the guardians of culture. (for a very telling snapshot, check out this Lesson Objective from Lesson 1, from the Teacher's Guide: "Students will identify the major early New Orleans jazz musicians, name the various roles they played (e.g., entertainer, teacher, transmitter of cultural tradition), and be able to describe their activities and achievements." Entertainer, teacher, transmitter of cultural tradition. Man, does that have Marsalis sauce all over it or what?)
But you all know what I'm most interested in. Once you get past the King Oliver, the Louis worship, the Bix and Benny and even Parker and Diz, golly, how will this National Endowment for the Arts/Jazz At Lincoln Center/Verizon Wireless curriculum make sense of all that Crazy Experimental Freedom?
Let's go to Lesson 4, "From the New Frontier to the New Millenium," and look at the list of Major Artists. Betty Carter. Ornette Coleman. John Coltrane. Wayne Shorter...hey, hang on a second kids! We missed one! How could we have skipped Wynton Marsalis?? And the perspicacious wisdom of his quote: “Jazz is an art form,” trumpeter Wynton Marsalis has said, “that gives us a painless way of understanding ourselves.” I have a painless way of understanding how Marsalis could be listed as a Major Artist with the likes of Betty Carter, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter...it involves scrolling down to the bottom of the page and being reminded that the educational materials have been Produced by Jazz at Lincoln Center. As the Verizon Wireless guy would say, "Can you hear me now?"
Check out these "Jazz Lesson Objectives" provided for teachers:
- Students will understand how jazz reflected the political and racial turbulence of the 1960s.
- Students will learn about trends in jazz during the 1960s and 1970s, including free jazz, fusion, and neo-mainstream.
- Students will learn how jazz earned its place as a significant American art form that today enjoys the support of government programs, private conservatories, and major cultural institutions.
"Well, sonny boy, read page 4 of the essay that goes with lesson 4, "From the New Frontier to the New Millenium," of the National Endowment for the Arts/Jazz at Lincoln Center/Verizon Wireless Jazz In The Schools Curriculum."
"Well teacher, it says:
"It turned out that, while the commercial vitality of mainstream jazz was fading during the free jazz and fusion eras, a younger generation of jazz musicians was being quietly cultivated not in urban lofts or in experimental ensembles but in colleges, universities, and music conservatories. By the early 1980s, the ranks of the “neo-mainstream” movement, as this new direction in jazz came to be called, were being filled in large part by talented young musicians who had undergone a rigorous program of instruction encompassing the entire history of mainstream jazz. In 1983 and 1984—after paying his dues as a sideman with the veteran drummer Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and the pianist Herbie Hancock—a young trumpeter from New Orleans, Wynton Marsalis, won two Grammy Awards, in both the jazz and classical categories. He was a convincing spokesman for jazz, and his music balanced inventiveness with tradition, group interaction with personal expression. The publicity he earned helped launch the careers of a score of likeminded performers—Terence Blanchard, Nicholas Peyton, Geri Allen, Cyrus Chestnutt, James Carter, and Joshua Redman, among others—whom the press collectively dubbed the Young Lions."
"That's right, sonny boy....but, keep reading, it gets better."
"For the many critics and fans who had been fearing the demise of jazz, the music of the neo-mainstream movement was a welcome revival of the music’s core values. Others worried, however, that jazz was now in danger of being confined to a narrow orthodoxy that would blunt the music’s cutting edge. Their concerns would soon prove to be unwarranted, however. During the 1990s, as musicians such as Don Byron, Cassandra Wilson, Dave Douglas, Brad Meldhau, and Jason Moran—whose styles variously incorporate the full spectrum of American and world musics, from country blues to Baltic folk songs to hip-hop—joined the fray, it became clear that contemporary jazz was a big tent that could accommodate a huge variety of aesthetic approaches."
(our courageous student begins to ask what "being confined to a narrow orthodoxy that would blunt the music's cutting edge" really means, but decides against it...and reads on):
"Meanwhile, having already secured a prominent place in the academic arena, jazz began receiving recognition and support both from the government and from private foundations. In 1982 the National Endowment for the Arts created the NEA Jazz Masters program to honor individuals who have contributed to the advancement of jazz; as of 2006 more than 80 artists had received awards. In 1986, four years after the death of the brilliant pianist and composer Thelonious Monk, his family established the Thelonious Monk Institute for Jazz, which quickly became a potent force both for jazz education and for the recognition of aspiring young jazz musicians (its annual jazz competition has become the preeminent event of its kind in the world). And in 1987, Lincoln Center, New York City’s premier arts complex, added jazz programming to its lineup; less than 10 years later, Jazz at Lincoln Center, with Wynton Marsalis at its helm, took its place alongside the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic as a full-fledged constituent, introducing a full concert season, a permanent jazz orchestra, and a broad range of educational programs that reach audiences of all ages.
When, in 1997, Marsalis’s epic oratorio Blood on the Fields became the first jazz composition to win the Pulitzer Prize, the vital role of jazz in American culture in the coming millennium seemed assured. It’s true that jazz was no longer the nation’s dominant form of popular music as it had been during the heyday of the Swing Era, but in fact jazz had in some ways transcended the popular realm and had become a form of expression equal in stature to classical music, fine art, and literature.""But teacher," says our courageous student, "I still don't understand how jazz earned its place as a significant American art form that today enjoys the support of government programs, private conservatories, and major cultural institutions?"
"Well, sonny boy, if you ask to ask, you'll never know...."
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Rancho Santa Ynez, near Catavina in the Central Desert. Sign by Gary Larson.
Playa Saldamando, off the toll road from Tijuana to Ensenada, with tent sites right on the Pacific. Typical of off season experiences, we were the only people camping. There are a couple hundred tent sites.
Dizzy Gillespie reissue on Prestige called "In the Beginning" now spinning. Double album with recordings from 1945 to 1950. There seem to be errors in the titles and personnel, so I'll have to dig a bit. Some tracks seem correct, including early work by Dexter Gordon, Al Haig, others. Dizzy's world is a flashing mix of adventure and entertainment. There are some funny moments of sudden transitions on here, including some discordant and ballsy big band performances followed by stuff like Oop Bop Sh'Bam.
Cut to Arthur Blythe's "Illusions," from Blythe's Columbia period, 1980. This is a Behearer selection and I can instantly hear that. I didn't catch much of what Blythe and some of his colleagues were doing in the late '70s/early '80s, as I was more focused on Cecil Taylor and the FMP stuff at the time. I was tired of explicitly composed music and suspicious of the Columbia catalogue in general. I'm deeply admiring of the playing by the personnel on here: James Blood Ulmer, Steve McCall, Fred Hopkins, Bob Stewart, Abdul Wadud. It seems funny that I thought of this music as "commercialized" at the time. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't, but the larger aesthetic impacts get lost in elitist judgments such as the ones I used to make with great certainty.
With the wisdom of hindsight what amazes me is that a major American label put this music out at all.
Friday, February 16, 2007
the whole point to the alkaloids is to make creation possible. I mean, if you're eaten before you can set seed, you've just been an herbaceous blip.
What's reprodcutive age for an American artist? Cecil Taylor performed at Newport in '55, I think, and won a MacCarthur in 1990 (I think...it was the early '90s, at any rate).
Camouflage is important too. If your flower is too showy you can give yourself away amongst the protective grass.
The above left is a Toumeya papyracantha, probably about 20 years old. The type locality for this bizarre cactus with grass-like spines is Santa Fe. Hardly anybody who lives here knows it exists.
On the Galapagos Islands, without predation, Opuntia echios v. gigantea, which otherwise may have remained just another "prickly pear," grows into a 30 foot tall tree with a 30 foot wide trunk. It's something like a trust fund plant, or a grant recipient, or a plant with patronage.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
The above represents the two main defense strategies of cacti in a harsh environment. Spines out the wazoo in the back row. From left to right: Thelocactus bicolor v. falvidispinus, Thelocactus bicolor, Glandulicactus wrightii. The front row...don't they look tasty, inviting, chewable? The stems are loaded with toxic, bitter alkaloids. From left to right: Ariocarpus kotschoubeyanus v. macdowellii, Ariocarpus fissuratus, Ariocarpus trigonus.
So which are you? Spines or alkaloids? (Not to say some cacti don't have both...)
Friday, February 09, 2007
But this music must have been extraordinarily easy to dance to. The expropriation of just enough of the more blatant facets of a "jazz" style is balanced quite skillfully with absolutely explicit and unsubtle THUMP thump THUMP thump. The proceedings are fairly well-recorded, and I assume that, relatively speaking, there was money for Whiteman and his orchestras. Is this the first example of white jazz? And did the guy really have to be named Whiteman? The music gods have a sense of humor, for sure.
There a few tracks of Beiderbecke with Hoagy Carmichael and a few of Beiderbecke's own 1930 band with the Dorseys, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa and Peewee Russell. The Hoagy Carmichael instantly has a different feel from Whiteman. It's funkier, it hops more. But the version of "Rockin' Chair" is sullied by the minstrelsy mugging of the vocals. "Barnacle Bill the Sailor" is a manic and extremely discomfiting "novelty number." Beiderbecke's own band provides a happy go lucky version of one of those searingly ironic tunes, "Deep Down South," a paean to...well, the Deep South. In general, Beiderbecke's own 1930 ensemble recordings feel closer to Whiteman than to Carmichael's syncopation. Except for more of a two-beat feel (one TWO one TWO) and more space for some inventive solos.
When I read Reading Jazz, the anthology edited by Robert Gottleib, it struck me how much romanticization and hero-worship young Beiderbecke received from a generation of "jazz" musicians from roughly 1940 to 1960 or so. The racism inherent in many comments about Beiderbecke is glaring. One famous musician said, "Beiderbecke helped to make jazz civilized." Is this not a deflected way of saying he helped to make it whiter? I'll stand by the queasy feeling I get of "making jazz safe for The Man," and the veiled "great white hope" whistfulness behind Bix worship, despite, of course, not being able to substantiate it.
Bix hagiography also reminds me too much of Dave Douglas's recent odd comments regarding the "crazy experimental freedom" of the '60s and '70s and how improvising musicians now are "harnessing" all that. It is important for creative musicians to remember that only the most blatant ploys (or natural tendencies) toward instant digestibility result in significantly greater sales figures. "Harnessed" CEF is still CEF, and has a very high LD 50. The handful of "jazz" musicians who make any real money (and they are not "jazz" musicians, really, most often) present few if any challenges to the listening public. Even a smidgeon of "crazy experimental freedom," just the slightest hint of it, and one's career is suddenly below the radar. I often innocently pick tracks for my radio show that I am convinced are non-threatening and "inside," perfectly mainstream, and have gotten feedback that "it's just too weird for me, too noisy/strange/hyper/dissonant." The general American listening public has all the sense of adventure of Immanuel Kant.
Having waded through the enjoyably odd Bix sides, it's now Charlie Parker/Fats Navarro/Curley Russell/Bud Powell/Art Blakey, execrable recordings captured live at Birdland, June 30, 1950. Twenty years after Goldkette, Whiteman, Carmichael, Bix. Dirge-like 'Round Midnight. Crazy.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Maybe it's a moment or two like this that makes me mellow, makes me look back at a winter of carping and criticizing and wonder why I don't post more positive posts. I hear Kenny Davern and Steve Lacy with Swallow and Motian on the radio in the morning and I think "no wonder people think they don't like creative improvised music...this is aimless, wandering trash. Clever, soulless mindfuck music." I hear Branford Marsalis and company from Crazy People Music on the radio this afternoon and think "The Coltrane Quartet on a really bad night. Trane has a canker sore and Elvin's using the wrong sticks. No, it can't be Trane, not when that opportunity to burst through the fog is glaringly missed, not when the piano playing completely lacks direction or spine, not when the whole band falls apart when the tenor takes it too far away. Ah, it's Branford! Now what the fuck was the point of that crap?"
It's hard being me, stuck with my carping negativity every day, day in, day out. There's lame and lazy Freddie Hubbard on the stereo right now. Philly Joe Jones wasting his talents again. A version of Body and Soul that's a total miss. With personnel like Wayne Shorter, Cedar Walton, Reggie Workman and Philly Joe, how can Hubbard fuck up? I don't know, but he manages it.
And what possesses someone like Archie Shepp to record a bunch of duets with Neils Henning Orsted-Pedersen of Charlie Parker tunes? Just play Shepp, Shepp. Goddamn this slack and faltering. Where's The Magic of JuJu Shepp?
I keep thinking of Miles Davis in his last, most famous Blindfold Test with Leonard Feather. Here's his full reaction to the famous trio recording of Duke's Caravan on Duke/Mingus/Roach, Money Jungle:
"What am I supposed to say to that? That's ridiculous. You see the way they can fuck up music? It's a mismatch. They don't complement each other. Max and Mingus can play together, by themselves. Mingus is a hell of a bass player, and Max is a hell of a drummer. But Duke can't play with them, and they can't play with Duke. Now how are you going to give a thing like that stars? Record companies should be kicked in the ass. Somebody should take a picket sign and picket the record company."
This is from the Blindfold Test where he basically hates every single recording and most of the musicians Feather puts on, except The Fifth Dimension's Prologue, The Magic Garden. ("That record is planned, you know. It's like when I do things, it's planned and you lead into other things. It makes sense.") Davis has kind words for The Electric Flag and Stan Getz as well.
I can be just about that ungenerous and irrational. The Davis Blindfold Test was in June, so you can't blame seasonal bitterness for that. But I'll use it as an excuse. Elvin, Elvin, Elvin...who talked you into doing watered down afro-cuban fusion hard bop in 1973? Was it Jan Hammer and his little Moog? Just play Elvin, Elvin.
The strange thing is I like all of these recordings. Not the Branford Marsalis, actually. I can't imagine ever listening to that a second time. But Lacy is a hero of mine. Shepp's duets have a spare, muscular strength and wit. Money Jungle is gorgeous and Miles was wrong, the three of them could play together (although I think Caravan is the weakest cut). Hubbard's sides are great to relax into. Elvin's early '70s recordings are wildly adventurous and take some real risks. And give you a chance to hear Pepper Adams.
I do fantasize about being chill. About enjoying everything. About warming up, thawing out, lightening up. Maybe next month.
Thursday, February 01, 2007
Not that Taylor is ignored by the Behearer project. 9 of his recordings are listed for this 20 year period. Compare that, however, to Mr. Taylor's discography for the same period: at least 25 recordings, and that's counting the 11-CD FMP 1988 marathon as one release (the FMP box set is listed on Behearer, in its entirety, as one entry, "Berlin '88.")
Taylor recordings that were essential to me during this period and that I think could easily be argued belong on the lists include:
1973- Indent, Akisakila, Spring of Two Blue J's
1976- Dark Unto Themselves, Air Above Mountains (Buildings Within)
1978- Cecil Taylor Unit, One Too Many Salty Swift and Not Goodbye
1979- Max Roach/Cecil Taylor Historic Concerts
1980- It Is In The Brewing Luminous
1981- The Eighth
1984- Segments II: Orchestra of Two Continents Winged Serpents/Sliding Quadrants
1986- Olu Iwa
1990- Double Holy House
Notes by year:
Indent (and its equally stunning counterpart, "Solo," an obscure Japanese release on Trio Records) heralds the "new" Taylor brilliantly. It stands in stark contrast to any of his earlier periods and makes for fascinating listening A/B-ed with "Praxis," another obscure solo piano recording, supposedly from 1968. Akisakila features unbelievable and unrelenting energy and inventiveness from a bare bones trio with Andrew Cyrille and Jimmy Lyons. Some of the most remarkable "free jazz" drumming in the history of the music. Spring of Two Blue J's is simply gorgeous.
Dark Unto Themselves (sometimes erroneously called "Dark to Themselves," an error Inner City Records made that lingers) is absolutely ripping and features the buzzsaw drama of David S. Ware, ballsy trumpet from Raphe Malik, and the roiling and precise drumming of Marc Edwards. The composition is extraordinary as well, and meticulously arranged. Air Above Mountains (Buildings Within) is yet another revelation in the solo Taylor catalogue, somehow managing to be a flood-like onslaught of ideas yet minimalist.
Two recordings spotlighting the landmark Unit of CT, one of the greatest groups in the history of jazz: Jimmy Lyons, Raphe Malik, Ramsey Ameen, Sirone and Ronald Shannon Jackson. The Cecil Taylor Unit is the New World Records counterpart to "3 Phasis," which is listed at Behearer. It's especially remarkable to follow the much more ballad-like swells and tidal shifts on this one. As for One Too Many Salty Swift and Not Goodbye, it is, quite simply, one of the all time great albums, regardless of style, time period, what have you. It's an epic, even in its edited three record original release, clocking in at more than 2 hours. The CD resissue includes some stunning solos and duets that were a prelude. I've owned this recording since it was released and have yet to absorb it. Every time I sit with it I hear new things.
The Max Roach/Cecil Taylor duets from 1979 are *essential listening* for anyone and everyone. Hard to believe this recording is not on the list.
It Is In The Brewing Luminous is a gorgeous set featuring both Sunny Murray and Jerome Cooper, with particularly stunning solos from Jimmy Lyons and a great, massive yet delicate overall swing.
The Eighth, originally released as "Calling It The Eighth," in edited form, is especially worthy due to the constantly surprising and sensitive interplay of William Parker and Rashid Bakr.
Winged Serpents/Sliding Quadrants...How could this not be on the list as a shoe in? Relatively brief excursions featuring Taylor's indelible mark as composer and arranger. Great ensemble playing. Burnin' solos. In some ways this is a distillation of everything Taylor had done to this point.
Olu Iwa is a fascinating, layered recording. It marks yet another transition for Taylor into different territory. Check the personnel: Earl McIntyre, Peter Brotzmann, Frank Wright, Thurman Barker, William Parker, Steve McCall.
A new chapter in Taylor's solo approach is represented by Double Holy House. His ritualized spoken word and percussion is dubbed over solo piano. The piano atmospheres are more spacious, more explicitly bluesy, gloriously percussive and rumbling with low notes.
Admittedly this is a lot of Taylor. But one could argue that the period from 1970-1990 was his most prolific, his most unrelenting and tenacious in the face of overwhelmingly depressing antithetical forces in America. Sad that almost all of these recordings were recorded or released in Europe. But maybe including more Taylor from 1970-1990 on Behearer is some slight way to remedy that.
Wrapping up this Taylor-like, epic post, I'm spinning "The Eighth." Jimmy Lyons! I had forgotten that the proceedings are launched by a Lyons solo. The fiery and sure backing of Parker and Bakr, and Taylor's earth-rattling dialogue with Lyons: simply not to be missed.