Wednesday, December 23, 2009

List Addendum and Holiday Miscellany

Thankfully - and perhaps confusingly - I prefer to do my year-end lists in alphabetical order. It's probably the library professional in me. But this is a funny and very true template for how the list is really created.

And though it arrived in my mailbox a little late to enter into any sort of contests (which really just serve to take time away from whiling hours at the day job), tenorman Von Freeman's Vonski Speaks (Nessa) is absolutely incredible. I'd listened to him piecemeal before and long appreciated the work of his brothers, the late drummer Bruz Freeman and oddball-funky guitarist George Freeman, but Von to me was always a tougher nut to crack. Still is, but at this point I worry less about cracking and just enjoy listening to his utterly surprising, whoop-and-holler phrase choices. Thirty-odd years earlier, he cut the LPs Have No Fear and Serenade & Blues for the same Nessa label, which are corkers as well, and age has only brightened the corners of his playing. If you've got some Hanukkah funds kicking around, I highly recommend Vonski Speaks. Look for a "real" review shortly at All About Jazz.

Also forthcoming at AAJ (finally): the words of Bill Dixon, and a short stack of reviews covering "solo playing" in all its forms in 2009.

Until then, happy holidays and Gajan Kristnaskon from "us" at Ni Kantu.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Best of 2009!!!

Well, it's that time again. It's the end of 2009 and I still haven't even listened to everything that's come out and been sent my way in the past year. Aargh. These are among my favorites or what I feel is most significant in the music released between Turkey Day 2008 and today, with apologies to Nessa's release of Von Freeman's Vonski Speaks. (I haven't got my copy yet and can already tell it would make the list. But without a listen... ) I added the categories of "Labels of the Year" and "Unavoidable Artist(s) of the Year" to mark stellar achievements in releasing interesting music, and in the latter case, heretofore unheard-of levels of visibility/self-promotion/general awesomeness.

Anyway, all of these discs can be found at your local brick-and-mortar retailer or among the many independent online retailers.You can find actual reviews of these titles (penned by yours truly) in All About Jazz, Signal To Noise, Paris Transatlantic, Austinist and Bagatellen.

New releases:

Jason Adasiewicz' Rolldown - Varmint (Cuneiform)
Josh Berman - Old Idea (Delmark)
Circulasione Totale Orchestra - Bandwidth (Rune Grammofon)
Bill Dixon - Tapestries for Small Orchestra (Firehouse 12)
Max Eastley / Rhodri Davies - Dark Architecture (Another Timbre)
Harris Eisenstadt - Canada Day (Clean Feed)
Alexander Hawkins Ensemble - No Now Is So (FMR)
Joe Morris/Jon Voigt/Tom Plsek - The Graphic Scores of Lowell Skinner Davidson (Riti)
Rob Mazurek - Sound Is (Delmark)
Talibam! - Boogie in the Breeze Blocks (ESP-Disk')

Reissues/Unearthed Gems:

39 Clocks - Zoned (De Stijl)
Laurie Scott Baker - Gracility (Musicnow)
Bobby Bradford with the Spontaneous Music Ensemble (Nessa)
Nathan Davis - The Best of... '65-'76 (Jazzman)
Sunny Murray - Big Chief (Eremite)
Wadada Leo Smith - Procession of the Great Ancestry (Nessa)
Solidarity Unit, Inc. - Red, Black & Green (Eremite)
The Sperm - Shh! (De Stijl)
Splinters - Split the Difference (Reel Recordings)
Toy Killers - The Unlistenable Years (ugExplode) 

Labels of the year:
Nessa Records, ugExplode

Unavoidable artists of the year*:
Jason Adasiewicz, Mary Halvorson, Nate Wooley, Weasel Walter

*meant as a compliment

Phill Musra Update

Well, Ni Kantu might just be for reedman Phill Musra like what Hat Hut was for Joe McPhee in the '70s, but by my own estimation that's perfectly all right. Phill has been kind enough to hip us to a couple more YouTube videos of his recent work, both of which include the stunning tune "Egypt," which originally appeared on the Creator Spaces LP (Intex, 1974).

Here is a gorgeous solo flute rendition:

And here he is with his trio:

For what it is worth, I've always been a little leery of the moniker "Spiritual Jazz" to describe a music for which only one part of it is spiritual as such. There's always a lot more going on than "merely" the spirit. But if one is looking for a definition of the spiritual in improvised music, Phill's music - along with artists like Pharoah Sanders and the later Coltrane - is certainly just that. Enjoy.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Bill Dixon artwork at AAJ

Though a few snafus delayed the online publication of a selection of Bill Dixon's paintings, lithographs and drawings at All About Jazz, they are now available. Please follow the link and I'd be curious to know your thoughts on Bill's visual art (which, in my opinion, should get as much notice as his music should).

Bill Dixon artwork at AAJ

Monday, November 9, 2009

David S. Ware in the news, via MSNBC

It's great to see that saxophonist/composer David S. Ware's recent recovery has made the larger news sphere. It is a powerful story. In addition, with new releases on AUM Fidelity and No Business Records, 2009-2010 will likely be a very good year for Mr. Ware.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Happy Birthday to Chris Albertson

Just a brief entry today to wish a happy birthday to Christiern Albertson, jazz historian/archivist, record producer, critic and radio announcer. Albertson is probably best known for his biography on Bessie Smith, Bessie (1972). Born in 1931 in Reykjavik, he emigrated to the US in 1957. An individual who, in the 1960s, brought traditional jazz and blues musicians (Elmer Snowden, Meade Lux Lewis, Lil Armstrong) to LP-weaned audiences, he produced sessions for the Riverside, Columbia, and Prestige labels and worked as the general manager for WBAI-FM in New York.  In the 1970s, he curated a PBS television program, The Jazz Set.

That is, of course, only a slight and partially-informed blurb on someone who has done a hell of a lot of work in this music (and whose autobiography can't come soon enough).

Read Christiern's blog here and wish him a happy 78th birthday!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Lest We Forget: Charles Tyler (1941-1992)

It’s unfortunate that occupying the orbit, for a time, of another more charismatic artist can relegate certain musicians to also-ran status, despite an individual voice and hard work as a bandleader-composer. For every commercial success like Pharoah Sanders there are countless stories like that of the undeservedly obscure saxophonist Charles Tyler, whose association with Albert Ayler informed but didn’t determine his artistic path. Born in Cadiz, Kentucky on July 20, 1941, Tyler was raised mostly in Indianapolis, starting on clarinet at age 7 and by his teen years was playing alto saxophone in the school band, alongside fellow Indy staples like James Spaulding and Ray Appleton. During the summer, Tyler and his family visited Chicago, New York, and Cleveland – where he met the young tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler at age 14. Tyler recounted to Michael Cuscuna that “I was walking down the street during one of my summer sin Cleveland, carrying my alto. This guy about 19 years old with a patch of red skin on part of his chin stopped me and introduced himself and told me that he played saxophone too and started talking about music. Then, when I moved to Cleveland, I came across this saxophonist with white hair growing out of half of his beard. That’s how I recognized him and how our relationship began.”

After a stint in the army from 1957-1959, Tyler relocated to Cleveland in 1960 and began playing in earnest, rehearsing and discussing the spiritual with Ayler. During the first half of the decade, Tyler commuted between Cleveland and New York, also woodshedding with and encouraging Albert’s younger brother Donald on trumpet. He made his first recording with the Aylers on May 1, 1965, in a Town Hall concert that was released on ESP as Bells. Ayler’s Spirits Rejoice, recorded later that year at Judson Hall was Tyler’s final commercial appearance with the Ayler juggernaut (though recordings from Slugs’ were subsequently released). Indeed, his place in the music was enough to inspire LeRoi Jones to write in 1966 that “only Charles Tyler of the Ayler unit has the big wailing heavy alto sound that satisfies my particular need for flesh and blood.” It wasn’t long after that they parted ways, owing to the increased commercialization of Ayler’s music. But Tyler had already stepped out as a leader for ESP by this time, recording four of his own compositions on the eponymous Charles Tyler Ensemble (slated for reissue this fall).

In late 1966, Tyler returned to Indianapolis to study at the University of Indiana under David Baker, recording with a string trio on the intriguing and hard-swinging Eastern Man Alone album; he then relocated to Berkeley, California to study and teach. His West Coast experience brought him into the orbit of players like David Murray and Black Arthur Blythe and writer Stanley Crouch, and he also began playing the baritone sax again (his army band axe). Tyler moved back to New York in 1974, studying at Columbia University and leading his own barnstorming freebop groups with Blythe, trumpeter Earl Cross, drummer Steve Reid and others, well-represented on albums like Voyage from Jericho (Ak-Ba/Bleu Regard) and Saga of the Outlaws (Nessa). During the height of the “loft jazz” years, he ran The Brook, a performance space, and his own Ak-Ba label. While other mavens of the scene became veritable jazz stars, Tyler didn’t meet with the same success and relocated to Europe, recording with other expatriates like Khan Jamal and Steve Lacy. Though he continued to release powerful dates as a leader for labels like Storyville and Bleu Regard, Tyler was still relatively unknown in the jazz avant-mainstream when he died of heart failure in June 1992 at age 51.

Recommended listening:

Albert Ayler, Bells (ESP, 1965)
Charles Tyler, Eastern Man Alone (ESP, 1968)
Charles Tyler, Voyage from Jericho (Ak-Ba, 1974)
Charles Tyler, Saga of the Outlaws (Nessa, 1976)
Steve Reid, Odyssey of the Oblong Square (Mustevic, 1977)
Charles Tyler, Sixty Minute Man (Adelphi, 1979)
Charles Tyler, The Definite (Storyville, 1981)
Billy Bang, Outline No. 12 (Celluloid, 1982)
Hal Russell, Generation (Nessa, 1982)
Steve Lacy, One Fell Swoop (Silkheart, 1987)

Drawings of Charles Tyler performing at Environ by Brian Olewnick. This article first appeared in All About Jazz New York.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Happy Birthday Bill Dixon

The great trumpeter, composer and improvisational architect turns 84 today.

The fantastic thing is not only that he's still working, but that his approach to composing and to the instrument still evolves to this day, even as young players who have absorbed his influence are making waves as well (Nate Wooley, Taylor Ho Bynum).

Ben Young did an excellent "Artist Profiles" 5-hour set on WKCR FM yesterday in honor of Bill's birthday. It's too bad that the program is not archived, because there were some tremendous performances - many of which remain unreleased commercially - available for in-depth listening and analysis.

Tapestries for Small Orchestra, the latest Bill Dixon offering on Firehouse12, should be available for pre-order soon. Here's a preview...

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Phill Musra Trio live in LA, 09/09

For those of you following this blog and the semi-regular updates on the work of multi-instrumentalists Phill (Phil) Musra and Michael Cosmic, here is another tidbit. The difference is that it was recorded live this past month at the Temple of Zion in Los Angeles, in high quality video. Musra is seen here on soprano saxophone, joined by Don Hooker on drums and Steve McGill on congas. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Middletown Notes

Saturday afternoon in Middletown, Connecticut. I am here (and have been here) for a four-day interview session with the great composer, idea-man and instrumentalist Anthony Braxton. It's been fascinating entering his world for this spell, especially as my musical education began with, took a break from, and is now returning to his work.

Being in the midst of it, there's not much room for reflection. Suffice it to say, however, that this will be an important and far-reaching text, some of which will be available through the All About Jazz website. I hope that, as with Bill Dixon, it is also the beginning of a special relationship.

Below is a video from Hamburg, 1981 with Braxton, Ray Anderson (trombone), Hugh Ragin (trumpet), and Marilyn Crispell (piano).

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bill Dixon Interview at All About Jazz (first of three)

Well, it's finally up - the Bill Dixon interview at All About Jazz. I hope you find it as stimulating, thought-provoking and enjoyable to read as it was to write.

There are three parts, and this is the first. The second will be an in-depth view of the paintings and the third will be a series of excerpts from Dixon's "Vade Mecum" manuscripts.


Friday, September 4, 2009

Review Re-Up: New York Calling (2007)

Ed. By Marshall Berman and Brian Berger

Reaktion Books, 328 pp. (225 photographs) $25

I only lived in New York briefly, in 2001 during a period of downtime between undergraduate studies at the University of Kansas and the beginning of graduate school in Chicago. I left in August shortly before the towers fell, and had spent most of my time working as an unpaid intern, 60 hours a week, at the Museum of Modern Art. Following some attraction bred by listening to the Velvets, Bob Dylan and anything ESP-Disk’ put out, I spent my off hours and days in the East Village hitting overpriced coffee shops, bars and small eateries. I went to hip-shaking nights near Union Square and walked to the A train drunk at 3 AM. I spent too much money going out and avoided my $700-a-month closet like the plague. At the time, I naively thought I was having some sort of New York experience, while somehow only occasionally traipsing into Brooklyn, Queens or far uptown.

Since then, I’ve lived a number of other places and visited New York a lot, and even though my time in the city was short, I still feel like six years later Manhattan and North Brooklyn are getting too clean and tidy (not to mention overpriced). However, being in no authoritative position to make such declarations, I can use the backup of New York Calling: From Blackout to Bloomberg, a cultural history of the boroughs over the last thirty years, a time of major upheaval in both the city’s landscape. There have been punk rock, hip-hop, AIDS, the high-tech bubble, terrorism, escapism, Reaganism, an explosive art market, gentrification, Wynton-ization, chain restaurants – and yet New York is still the destination, the place of finding oneself, and the end of the line for many.

New York Calling is a collection of essays, laments and paeans from figures like Edmund Berrigan, composer/improviser Allen Lowe, Richard Meltzer, Margaret Morton, Luc Sante, Brandon Stosuy, graffiti artist Joseph Anastasio and others. Lament is in many ways the operative word – a hymn from the bohemians and radicals who made New York what it was in the ‘70s and ‘80s, dedicated to the city that they moved to and the environment that they created. Sure, it’s easy to romanticize the junkies, the squatting in raw lofts, the propensity of garbage and sewage in the subways and the thrilling danger of riding them overnight. But the cost of “cleaning up” the city is not lost here, either – Morton’s article “The Homeless” paints a stark picture not of the city’s roving population, but of the methods used to push out those who made non-traditional living spaces out of the city’s parks, abandoned subway tunnels and other free real estate. Gentrification is mentioned right and left – from allusions to the tensions erupting in the Lower East Side in John Strausbaugh’s “From Wise Guys to Woo-Girls” to Berger’s historical account of Brooklyn, to the personal story of one such Williamsburg gentrifier, Jean Thilmany’s “The Practice of Everyday Life.” Eating, fucking, commerce and art-making are covered in-depth, too, Anthony Haden-Guest providing an interesting account of the cutthroat art market in “BIG ART, Inc.”

New York police and government are covered in detail in Leonard Levitt’s “NYPD” and Tom Robbins’s “The Other New York Still Awaits its Leader,” a study of mayoral candidacies of the past few decades. Though these may be the only in-detail discussions of what entities keep the city ostensibly operating, almost every essay makes reference to Giuliani’s and Bloomberg’s realtor-friendly clean-up project, Olive Garden- and big-box-friendly zoning and condo-fication. It’s not necessary to have detailed policy studies, sometimes, when the results are right in front of one’s face.

New York Calling is an account of the transformation of an artist’s/rabble-rouser’s mecca to a Big City, plain and simple. Fundamentally, however, the authors and editors of this volume mostly continue to stake their claims to the city’s landscape and the history that it has to offer. Weirdos, hipsters, artists, yup-sters and the elite will always find a way to make it to New York, whether or not they can afford it. Even if the gritty charm of it is completely scoured away like so much graffiti, there will be twentysomethings from Kansas and elsewhere ready to peel away the layers of clean to find the filth.

- Clifford Allen

This review was originally published on my old, mostly inactive blog, The Big Red Blog. Check out Brian Berger's excellent NY culture blog, Who Walk in Brooklyn, here.

Organissimo Live on Blue Lake

I wanted to share this video of the Michigan organ trio organissimo (Jim Alfredson, Hammond B-3; Joe Gloss, guitar; Randy Marsh, drums) joined by trombonist Paul Brewer for a concert on WBLV Blue Lake Radio, 90.3 in Muskegon, MI, recently.

You don't normally hear a classic soul-jazz organ trio with trombone, so hopefully this sort of collaboration bears some fruit. Not to mention that organissimo have a real bead on the "classic sound" of the organ trio while imbuing it with modern flourish. Discs are available here.

Monday, August 31, 2009

"New" Phill Musra and Michael Cosmic Track

Reedman and composer Phill Musra has given me permission to share this track with readers of Ni Kantu. The piece is titled "More Beautiful Vibrations from the Creator," and was recorded in 1986 in Los Angeles with Phill on tenor, Cosmic on alto, Mike Mowen on bass and Kay Ballard on drums. This tune, written by Musra, also appeared on the LP Musiki (Intex, 1974), under the leadership of drummer Huseyin Ertunc, and a fine document of the Musra-Cosmic-Ertunc cooperative group. Apparently it is Michael's last performance on the alto saxophone (he takes the second solo, egged on by Phill's honks).

Michael Cosmic also played piano and various other reeds; according to Phill, "he could play anything he put his hands on." It's a shame that he passed away in 2001, but luckily there are nuggets of great music that he left. His own LP, a scarce privately-pressed document entitled Peace in the World, is one of the scarcest free jazz/Boston improvisation albums, though Musra has confirmed the presence of master tapes and we can hope for its reissue in the not-too-distant future.

Until that time, hope you enjoy "More Beautiful Vibrations from the Creator," available here.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Not-So-Brief Interviews with Famous Men

Just a couple of updates while I have a few minutes, provided by the wi-fi and Americano at Progress Coffee...

The interview with Bill Dixon, titled Bill Dixon: In Medias Res, will be running in mid-September at All About Jazz. It will be really special, containing some rare photographs and, even cooler, a number of Bill's paintings and lithographs. If you haven't had a chance to see his singular visual artwork, this will be your chance. There will be a gallery of about ten of his works on display at the AAJ site, linked through the article.

Also, keep your eyes peeled for interviews with Bobby Bradford and Harris Eisenstadt (soon) and another major one with Anthony Braxton (later).

For those of you into the AACM who can't wait for the Braxton discussions, head on over to Bagatellen - a review of the new Nessa Records CD reissue of Roscoe Mitchell's Congliptious is posted there and comes highly recommended.

Happy listening!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Early Week Roundup

Last week was extraordinarily busy for me in my "other life," attending the Society of American Archivists conference 2009, which was here in Austin. Consequently, almost no time to ponder the musical wellsprings nor reflect on the passing of a few of history's giants: drummer Rashied Ali and guitarists Les Paul and Lawrence Lucie. I understand that the folks at Destination Out will be doing a Rashied Ali memorial post soon, so stay tuned to their well-researched neck of the internet for more.

In less morbid news, however, readers of Ni Kantu can look forward to another post on the music of Phill Musra and Michael Cosmic, reedmen and twin brothers. Phill is still with us and playing, though Michael passed in 2001. I hope to, with Phill's permission, post an exclusive rare track, one of the last to feature Cosmic's playing. I can guarantee it won't quite be like anything you've heard before.

In music...

Friday, August 7, 2009

Happy Birthday Rahsaan

August 7, 2009 - reedman and composer Rahsaan Roland Kirk would have been 73 today. Here's a celebratory clip with Rahssan and his group of the time (1969), featuring (as near as I can tell) Ron Burton on piano, Jimmy Hopps on drums, and Vernon Martin on bass. That's Joe Habad Texidor on vocals and tambourine, also. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Minneapolis We Insist

The long-awaited interview with Weasel Walter is available at All About Jazz here. I think it came out pretty well. I'd be curious for some feedback of course.

Just returned from Minneapolis and my sister's wedding with an armload of releases from my friend Clint's label De Stijl. Check them out! Maybe I can strongarm him into doing some jazz/improvised releases in the near future. But for that there is always Roaratorio, another Minneapolis-based label that has been tirelessly documenting the work of artists as diverse as Joe McPhee and Paul Metzger. Look for a solo alto saxophone McPhee LP shortly.

I didn't have much time for record shopping, but did pick up an original Atlantic Stereo pressing of the self-titled Clarke-Boland Big Band record; not as groovy as the later European sides on MPS, Columbia, et al but pretty strong and an appearance from Maffy Falay is always welcome.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Lest We Forget: Charlie Mariano (1923-2009)

Note: this article also appears in the August 2009 issue of All About Jazz New York in a shortened version.

Making a name for oneself in the cutting-contest world of bebop was a difficult thing in the 1940s, a ripe period when swing was giving itself over to the “new thing” of improvising on melodic-rhythmic changes. Modern jazz was, of course, a rich enough approach that many musicians found a lifetime of aesthetic achievement within that idiom. Yet there were players who came out of the bebop language who continued to invent, finding music itself a broad enough language that a single approach couldn’t contain their ideas. Saxophonist and flutist Charlie Mariano was one of those restless improvisers, though his body of work might be skipped over by a canon set to the changes of Coltrane, Miles and Mingus.

Mariano was born Carmine Ugo Mariano on November 12, 1923 in Boston, the son of Italian immigrants who had come over at the time of World War I. Mariano began in music very young, learning piano and becoming an excellent sight-reader. Under the influence of Lester Young, he took up the saxophone as a teenager, receiving an alto as a gift from his sister. Almost immediately, he formed a small dance-band combo and played locally; by nineteen, he had joined the union and was gigging semi-professionally. After a stint in the Army where he was stationed in Kansas and California, he returned to Boston and came under the spell of Charlie Parker. He told interviewer Lothar Lewien: “I wanted to be able to play like this. Hence I chased Bird's sound, his way of phrasing. I listened to his solos on recordings for hours, wrote them down, and played it. I'd been obsessed with this music, and Charlie Parker had been my God.” After a brief and, in Mariano’s words, unchallenging period with territory bands, he attended the Schillinger School (later Berklee) on the GI Bill, studying under Joe Viola. Music school opened doors, and Mariano worked in the bands of Nat Pierce, Serge Chaloff and Herb Pomeroy, as well as leading his first sessions for Imperial and, shortly thereafter, Prestige and Bethlehem.

By the mid-1950s, Mariano was leading the saxophone section of Stan Kenton’s band as well as arranging; an on-and-off position, he left the group for Los Angeles and drummer Shelley Manne’s quintet, for which he wrote a number of compositions and recorded five albums. In 1958, he returned to Boston and began teaching at Berklee, where met his second wife, Japanese-born pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi. Forming a quartet, the Marianos were busy, working in New York, recording for Candid and touring Japan (later resulting in a somewhat lengthy stay). Mariano’s sound had evolved past the Charlie Parker mold into a keening cry, analogous to a “cooler” Jackie McLean – something which Charles Mingus appreciated and used on The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady and Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus (Impulse, both 1963). In 1967, Mariano went on exchange to Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, where he became interested in Indonesian and South Asian music, especially the nadaswaram (a South Indian double-reed instrument), which he studied with guru Muthaiah.

Mariano’s “second career” began to take shape after his months in Indonesia. After brief visits to Japan (where he recorded with Japanese saxophonist Sadao Watanabe) and the US, Mariano relocated to Holland and then Belgium, working with Dutch flutist Chris Hinze, pianist Jasper van’t Hof and Belgian guitarist Philip Catherine. His approach to alto and soprano saxophones and flute, with both an edgy keen and an understanding of Indian modes, was perfectly suited to jazz-rock. It wasn’t long before he joined the German prog-rock band Embryo and Dutch group Supersister, as well as forming Porkpie with van’t Hof and Catherine (also featuring drummer Aldo Romano and bassist J-F Jenny-Clarke). Mariano closed out the decade playing in German bassist-cellist Eberhard Weber’s group, Colours, and the multi-national United Jazz + Rock Ensemble. He also spent time in India throughout the decade, studying bamboo flute in Bombay.

From the 1980s onward, Mariano was based in Cologne, Germany leading his own combos and guesting with artists as diverse as Mal Waldron, Anthony Braxton, Kent Carter and Theo Jörgensmann. His renown and achievements are bittersweet, however – revered and downright “popular” in Western Europe, Mariano’s work (not many can boast Herb Pomeroy and Embryo on their resume) is certainly far less-discussed in American jazz circles. After a long illness, Mariano passed away June 17, 2009 at age 85.

Selected Discography:

Charlie Mariano - Boston All Stars - (Prestige/OJC, 1951-1953)
Toshiko Mariano Quartet - (Candid, 1960)
Charles Mingus - The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady - (Impulse!, 1963)
Charlie Mariano/Chris Hinze Combination - Blue Stone - (Black Lion, 1971)
Embryo - We Keep On - (BASF, 1972)
Charlie Mariano - Reflections - (Catalyst, 1974)
Edward Vesala - Nan Madol - (Japo, 1974)
Charlie Mariano - Jac's Group - (Horo, 1975)
Embryo - Life - (Schneeball, 1980)
Charlie Mariano/Mal Waldron - Autumn Dreams - (Alfa Jazz, 1991)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Nate Wooley, trumpeter, interviewed

The interview is available at Bagatellen, here.

I'm curious to know what you all think - I usually do phone, rather than email interviews so this was pretty interesting process-wise. Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

George Russell (1923-2009)

The sad news has been confirmed here, among other sources:

The composer George Russell, best known for his 1953 music theory The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization died yesterday aged 86. He had been unwell for some time and had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. His ideas were at the time seen as some of the first major contributions by a jazz musician in the field of music theory.

In the 1960s he moved to Scandinavia and taught in Sweden and in Denmark and thanks to Swedish radio was able to record his compositions and undertake new commissions. He worked with Don Cherry and a young Jan Garbarek and then on his return to the States joined the faculty of the New England Conservatory. Later in the 1980s and 90s he formed and toured his Anglo-American group the Living Time Orchestra which featured Andy Sheppard among the soloists. His albums include the classic 1961 Riverside album Ezz-Thetics., Avant Music News, Jul 2009

I first heard Mr. Russell's music in the late Nineties, after picking up his excellent Stratus Seekers album with trumpeter Don Ellis, Dave Baker on trombone and tenorman Dave Young (among others). The arrangements were unique, solos burning, incredibly swinging but not like anything else I'd heard at the time. He had a great run on Decca and Riverside in the early Sixties, and his Scandinavian bands of the subsequent decade (late 60s-70s) were equally hot.

I don't pretend as a nonmusician to understand his theories, I just know that I've gotten a lot of joy out of his work. RIP, Mr. Russell, and thanks for all you gave.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Bits and Bobs

Not much news over the past week and some change. I'll be heading to Minneapolis, an old stomping ground, in a few days for my sister's wedding. Hopefully I'll have some time and spare change to hit up Roadrunner Records and Treehouse Records. Maybe even Hymie's.

It looks like a couple more interviews should be running soon - I'd expect them online in early August.

At All About Jazz, a confab with percussionist-improviser Weasel Walter will run as a full, unabridged interview. I had hoped this would be available before he went on tour in May, but I got slow and so it runs next month. As far as burning free-jazz skronk goes, I highly recommend his work, most of which is available here.

Bagatellen will soon publish an interview I did with trumpeter Nate Wooley, who has done some interesting work with Mary Halvorson and Reuben Radding in the group Crackleknob. Also the trio Hammer with Fred Lonberg-Holm and Jason Roebke. Also Transit, Harris Eisenstadt's Guewel, duos with Paul Lytton and Peter Evans... busy guy. Also one of the trumpeters out there really expanding on/extending the language qua Bill Dixon.

Tonight's listening: Christian Lillingers' Grund and Herculaneum III, both on Clean Feed.

Monday, July 13, 2009


Image copyright Mark Mahaney, courtesy of the Wire.

I know some people out there have heard me talk about a long-unpublished Bill Dixon article, one that was slated for Signal To Noise but for various reasons, did not get published. I won't go into those here, because there isn't much point and I still am part of that magazine's community.

Anyway, the lowdown is this: it will be running on All About Jazz by the end of the summer. They are very excited to publish it, especially because it will give, I think, readers & those both familiar and unfamiliar with Dixon's music a lot to chew on. Unlike most articles on him, this one will include some images taken from Mr. Dixon's broad range of visual work - paintings, lithographs, and photographs. Dixon will also contribute a short article on a subject of his choosing to go along with the main piece.

So in advance of the September release of a 2CD & 1DVD set on Firehouse12, this will be a pretty neat article. I'm glad to finally get it published, because it's been in the vault for over a year, and it concerns one of the most interesting artists on the planet.

And for those of you still on the fence about Dixon's 2007 collaboration with the Exploding Star Orchestra, they will be performing next month at Lisbon's Jazz Em Agosto. If you can't make it to Lisbon, the CD is available here and it is very, very fine. Happy listening, and I hope to hear from you once the Dixon piece runs.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Lest We Forget... Bengt "Frippe" Nordstrom (1936-2000)

Note: this article first appeared in All About Jazz New York, March 2009. The image is a detail from the cover that Nordstrom used for his Bird Notes LP and EPs.

The mythologizing of a musician coming from seemingly out of nowhere to turn established forms on their heads is often given a purely American sort of credence—specifically in the work of Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler. In Sweden there was a saxophonist who experienced all manner of difficulty and misunderstanding throughout a nearly forty-year career, never quite reaping the benefits of grudging acceptance let alone love and adoration. That saxophonist was Bengt Nordström, known to Stockholm’s jazz public by the nickname “Frippe.” Nordström was born in Djursholm, Sweden, on July 13, 1936, and though he began as a drummer, switched to clarinet in his late teens, inspired by New Orleans and traditional jazz played in Stockholm by the likes of the Alligator Jazz Band. At nineteen, he started his own trad band and attended the Nalen Jazz School in Stockholm, studying alto saxophone with Rolf Billberg and Rolf Blomquist. The alto became his primary horn, though he also played tenor saxophone.

At 23, Nordström heard Sonny Rollins live in Stockholm. At the same time, he heard Ornette Coleman on Swedish radio, and these players supplanted Tony Scott and Buddy De Franco among his listening pantheon. Nordström is quoted in the liner notes to Meaningless (Blue Tower, 2003) as saying Coleman’s approach struck him as “more definite and physical” than the music he had been listening to. Nordstrom met Albert Ayler on the tenorman’s Scandinavian sojourn in 1962, and though they never played together, they spent hours listening to records in Nordstrom’s flat. Ayler’s gruff sound and wide vibrato had a definite affect on Nordström’s playing, but what is especially prophetic about their meeting is that it would result in Ayler’s first official recording, Something Different!!!, which Nordstrom recorded and released on his Bird Notes imprint. Ayler’s seeming disregard for the themes and forays far from tunes’ rhythmic and tonal parameters was an influence on Nordstrom’s aesthetic, as his small-group recordings from the period show. Most of these sessions were released in extremely small numbers on the Bird Notes imprint and some even featured Nordstrom himself playing solos over Miles Davis records.

In 1967, Nordström recorded Natural Music, joined on one side by bassist Sven Hessle and playing unaccompanied on the other. In fact, Nordström frequently played solo and had already released micro-edition recordings of unaccompanied saxophone music. Unhindered by an ensemble that wasn’t quite where he was, Nordstrom’s playing here is full of folksy whims, wandering but utterly committed to the moment and as harsh and braying as his tone might seem, Nordstrom is delicate and very lyrical. Though he appeared as a sideman with Gunnar Lindquist and Don Cherry in the late Sixties and early Seventies, his tactic of jumping onstage and playing his music at nearly every local jam session met with disapproval from Stockholm musicians. Still, he was able to find sympathetic ears and recorded an album of his own music for Dragon Records in 1982, Now’s the Frippe Time. Nordström remained somewhat active throughout the Eighties and mentored Swedish reedman Mats Gustafsson in addition to playing in a quartet with drummer Peter Uuskyla, bassist Bjorn Ålke, and violinist Lars Svantesson. After a decade-long illness, Bengt Nordström died in 2000 at age 63.

Selected Discography
Bengt Nordstrom - Meaningless (Blue Tower CD, 1962-1964)
Bengt Nordstrom - Natural Music (Bird Notes LP, 1968)
Don Cherry - Movement Incorporated (Anagram CD, 1968)
Gunnar Lundquist - Orangutang! (EMI-Odeon LP, 1970)
Bengt Nordstrom - Now's the Frippe Time (Dragon LP, 1982)
Bengt Nodrstrom - The Environmental Control Office (Ayler CD, 1988)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Summer Splurge

Well, my "parsing EAI" post will have to wait until later as I get through the backlog of Bagatellen/STN/AAJ/Paris Transatlantic reviews, but in the meantime I thought I'd share a couple of short-lists of recordings to check out this year. Last year was the first in memory that I was able to intelligently compile a top ten list of new releases and reissues. It was a good year for both, and not just "good," but actually "excellent," as a slew of fantastic new releases hit the shelves in jazz, free improvisation, experimental and avant-rock. Ditto the reissue market, which seems to be rolling along unabated - even as the download blogs and lack of CD sales run rampant.

I'm looking forward to the new 2 or 3 disc set of Bill Dixon's music on Firehouse12 (look for an interview on All About Jazz in due course) this fall, and similarly can't wait to get my grubby paws on Josh Berman's new disc on Delmark.

But for now, here are some titles that have moved me. Check your local brick and mortar or look up the labels online if you have difficulty finding these titles in your area.

New Issues:
Alexander Hawkins Ensemble "No Now Is So" (FMR)
Rob Mazurek "Sounds" (Delmark)
Joe Morris-Jon Voigt-Tom Plsek "MVP LSD - The Graphic Scores of Lowell Skinner Davidson" (Riti)
Talibam! "Boogie in the Breeze Blocks (ESP-Disk)
Trio X "Live in Vilnius" (No Business)

Reissues/Unearthed Gems:
Dave Bixby "Ode to Quetzalcoatl" (Anthology)
Ted Daniel "Loft Years, Volume 1" (Ujamaa)
Nathan Davis "The Best Of, 1965-1976" (Jazzman)
Sunny Murray "Big Chief" (Eremite)
Sperm "Shh!" (De Stijl)
Splinters "Split the Difference" (Reel Recordings)

Happy listening!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


It's hard to believe that it's been nearly three months since I updated Ni Kantu. The reasons are pretty easy to come up with - lack of time & a lot of uncertainty/frustrations in my life. Personal venting's not really the business of this blog (otherwise I'd update it daily, natch). But now might be a good time to think about what, exactly, I do want it to be about - after all, my regular writing gigs have been put on temporary back burner as well due to the issues above. Still, the piles of discs to listen to gets ever higher and I'm not for want of mental stimulation from all that I hear and see. So please don't abandon ship just yet - a real, actual post will come later today. Followed by more in the coming weeks, including a few reviews.


Clifford Allen

Monday, March 30, 2009

Dues Owed

When I lived in New York in 2001, one of my rituals was – since I had the option – to go to Tonic, usually taking a date, on the weekends. The club closed not too long ago due to rent issues and who knows what else, but eight years ago it was still a semi-viable place to see music in lower Manhattan. Especially in the days before All About Jazz New York and its tireless documentation of hole-in-the-wall gigs, you could show up and nearly be assured of something at least “interesting.” So one night I saw a duet between turntablist-composer Ikue Morii and saxophonist Louie Belogenis. It was pretty much, as I remember it, a set of scrabble and tweet, and at that point a kind of music that I wasn’t really delving into with any great verve (now I can discern many different players’ tweets, but that is another story). I didn’t go much further investigating Belogenis’ career based on that one association; had I done so, I would have realized that his discography hewed closer to contemporary “fire” music and approaches that I had greater affinity with.

This was brought to mind by two recent releases I received featuring Belogenis’ tenor playing, which reminds me of Seventies-era Sam Rivers with a wider vibrato and spaced-out, chewed-up phrases. It might seem a little “cooler” than players like David Ware, Charles Gayle, Sabir Mateen or Ras Moshe – but the nuances of Belogenis’ playing, the micro-phrases, while detailed in their working-over never come off as “cold” exercises. He’s in a great little trio with drummer Charles Downes (Rashid Bakr) and bassist Joe Morris, called the Flow Trio, who have a CD out on ESP-Disk’. Some of it reminds me a bit of Trio X but without the strong front-porch blues approach. Another one that passed through my hands is a surprising quartet with vibraphonist Karl Berger, bassist Mike Bisio and drummer Warren Smith under the title Old Dog (Porter, 2009). It combines those playful, glassy and buzzing runs that Berger has patented with braying tenor and Smith’s subtle, brushy dexterity – really nice, refreshing work that recalls the “loft-jazz” heyday without being in any way a throwback.

Thinking about Belogenis – he’s got some records with Rashied Ali that I really need to check out at some point – gets me wondering about the preconceptions or misrepresentations that we’re supposed to work with as consumers, press, fans, or whatever. I didn’t pay Belogenis any mind after that one experience that I didn’t enjoy, missing out until now on great free jazz from an interesting tenor player. We’re bombarded with so much music that sometimes it’s hard to go on much else, though – as a reviewer, my pile(s) of CD’s to listen to and write on is, for me, pretty daunting. Only a few of those will probably see print. As a consumer, it’s also pretty hard to make sure every stone is properly overturned and none too hastily. Being a somewhat recent convert to “funky” jazz and soul music, I’ve probably avoided things because of how they looked or what label they’re on rather than any studied approach, but considering the mass of what is available, one needs some sort of litmus test to follow.

I know that one can never hear everything – and what good would it do if one could? – but trying to check one’s preconceptions at the door is about the best that can be hoped for. And I hope Mr. Belogenis accepts my apology for not taking his work seriously on first exposure – I’m rectifying that as I type.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Boogaloo Pow-Wow

I remember about twelve years ago sitting in the Borders café in Topeka, Kansas (where I grew up) to watch some local improvisers play. I was by this point pretty “seriously” into jazz, or at least buying records and losing my mind over Albert Ayler, so stopping by to hear some KC-area players “blow” didn’t seem like the worst idea ever, even if it was limited to what could occur in a small-city coffee shop. The lineup consisted of reeds, guitar, bass and drums. It probably had its moments but what really sunk me at the time was the leader’s suggestion to “get into a mellow funk groove.” I cringed because to me, the melding of what I viewed as simplistic popular music with jazz or free improvisation seemed utterly antithetical and a waste of good blowing room. I had a few “boogaloo” jazz records at the time, but what I was really into was the heavy “free” stuff. So the idea of backbeats or, alternately, finger-cymbal-addled modal jams was really not my cup of tea.

With wiser (hopefully) ears and a gradual abating of ability to handle the more full-bore “out” jazz and improvisation (at least all the time), not to mention being in relationships with people whose tastes tend to the more popular end of the spectrum, has meant a somewhat dramatic shift in what I appreciate most in this music. It’s pretty hard for me to mince with a driving beat, slinky guitar and the spacey comping of electric piano or fuzz-organ. I dig simple, repetitive themes echoed by trumpet and tenor nearly buried by close-miked congas, or vamp-heavy post-Coltrane marches with dervish-like soprano solos. And though I used to cringe when somebody learned that I was a record collector and assumed I was a rare soul DJ because I was a bearded, scruffy white dude, now I’m more curious about some of these nuggets than ever before.

Amazingly enough, a lot of the really heavy material by some of the more interesting Afro-jazz figures remains woefully out of print – sessions by Dutch tenorman Hans Dulfer’s Ritmo-Natural, a band encompassing players culled from Dutch psych as well as Surinamese immigrants, are very scarce on vinyl and relatively unknown among the jazz DJ set. Ditto altoist Theo Loevendie, whose Mandela encompasses North African and Latin rhythms as well as a bit of freakbeat reference into a storming post-bop jazz mix. And Basque pianist Francois Tusques’ Intercommunal Free Dance Music records, though a little more “touted,” still haven’t seen a concentrated reissue program.

That said, there is still a lot out there that has seen the light of day in recent years – especially on the American angle (European free-funk seems to be lagging in interest). Here are a few things that I’ve been listening to lately, and for a while, that one would do well to check out on CD or vinyl reissue…

Nathan Davis ’65-’76, the Best of (Jazzman UK) – Davis plays tenor, soprano and flute and now teaches at the University of Pittsburgh. In the ‘60s he led some mighty fine post-Coltrane modal jazz groups and recorded for a host of small European labels. There are a few cheesy fusion moments towards the end of this disc, but the first half – with players like Art Taylor, Mal Waldron, Hampton Hawes and Kenny Clarke - absolutely smokes. Jazzman also do a nice job of reissuing rare Northern Soul 45s (the kind that fetch big bucks) and some of the oddball releases like Uncle Funkenstien (with former Blue Note Records regulars James Spaulding and Larry Ridley) are certainly worth picking up as well.

Sahib Shihab and the Clarke-Boland Big Band reissue series (Rearward/Schema) – Dusty Groove has been carrying both vinyl and CD reissues of these scarce European jazz sides for a while now. Most of them have the same lineup, generally speaking, with American expat bebop drummer Kenny Clarke and Belgian pianist Francy Boland at the helm of some seriously motoring, earthy big band grooves. Saxophone soloists like Shihab, Karl Drevo and Johnny Griffin are often out of the gates with real keening fire, but there are some nice ballad moments and vocal-and-bongos club tracks as well.

Boscoe (Numero Group)– This is a pretty ridiculously awesome collision of 70s Chicago soul and an aesthetic that at times recalls communal psych bands like Amon Duul. I really don’t know what to make of it but suffice it to say you’ve never heard anything like it. The original (on the Kingdom of Chad label) is rare as rocking horse shit, but Numero seems to be keeping these reissues in print. Also, the label has a number of really interesting funk/soul compilations from various corners of the world. Mostly harder stuff than you’d find on Honest Jon’s (another great label out of England who comb the globe for obscure Afro and Latin releases).

Byard Lancaster Funny Funky Rib Crib (Kindred Spirits) –Originally issued on Palm, this heavy side features reedman Lancaster and his “From a Love Supreme to the Sex Machine” sound with North African and French musicians as well as the wiry freakouts of Congolese guitarist Francois Nyombo. The label also reissued some great music by saxophonist Hal “Cornbread” Singer, with a similar band. Singer’s Blues and News (on Futura Records) is one of my all-time favorite jazz LPs in this or any vein.

Happy listening!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Monastic Ecstatic

I've been on a bit of an Alice Coltrane kick lately. I didn't follow her work too much until the past couple of years, for a couple of reasons. First, I think my tastes have mellowed out a bit, to where Eastern-inflected modal plateaus are often just the right thing to chill out to. As my friend Stefan put it, in response to a recording of Pharoah Sanders, "this is one for the shirt-raising Spiritual crowd." Anyway, I've particularly been attracted to Alice's records with strings - her string writing is pretty dense and adds a touch of tweaked madness to the free-time modal stuff she recorded with Ben Riley, Charlie Haden, Rashied Ali, Frank Lowe, Majid Shibazz, et al.

Here, however, is a clip I found of the then-Alice McLeod performing in Paris at the Blue Note Cafe with Kenny Clarke (drums), Lucky Thompson (tenor sax), Jimmy Gourley (guitar) and Pierre Michelot (bass). I believe the date on this is 1961, when Lucky, Clarke, Gourley and Michelot were in residence with a number of pianists. Who knows, maybe someday a complete recording will surface... Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The occasionals

Initially, I was hoping to update this blog every week.

Well, that was optimistic. Between work, writing for the usual print subjects and trying to have a social life in between, it isn't easy to find time. And I feel like this blog's editorializing should be greater in scope than one-sentence posts.

So please check back in roundabout a couple of weeks for another missive.

Until then, what has been on my deck nonstop:
Charles Tyler - Saga of the Outlaws (Nessa Records)
Joe Morris/Jon Voigt/Tom Plsek - The Graphic Scores of Lowell Skinner Davidson (Riti)
Lowell Davidson - Trio (ESP)
Anthony Braxton - Moscow 2008 (Leo)
Wadada Leo Smith - Procession of the Great Ancestry (Nessa)

Deep in the Neighborhood...

When I was in Vermont with trumpeter-composer Bill Dixon last year, he relayed a crucial bit of teaching philosophy that he had given his students: “you start from where you are.” In this sense, a musician doesn’t need to copy verbatim Louis Armstrong solos to learn the language of jazz improvisation. That isn’t to say that eventually one wouldn’t want to or feel the need for Louis Armstrong, just to understand more greatly the whole of the thing – but whether it’s necessary to understanding what the instrument does or what one as a musician wants to do is another thing entirely. More than likely, it isn’t, despite what figureheads of Jazz at Lincoln center might want one to believe. Especially if the fundamental thing about music is to be able to play/create what one wants to play.

But as a listener, where does this fit in? I used to feel that knowing history was important above all towards being able to discern what a player was doing. As a critic, I felt it was important to connect saxophonist X with John Tchicai, Steve Lacy, Archie Shepp or whomever. Now, I write and I find it almost damning to place someone within a certain lineage unless it’s been specifically discussed by the player. In other words, to talk about Taylor Ho Bynum, one cannot leave out Dixon, whom he has studied with. And that influence is very, very clear. But someone like Axel Doerner or Peter Evans who hasn’t specifically mentioned that influence, well… maybe it’s not so crucial, though it does help to mention parallels. As a listener, does one need to have heard predecessors to enjoy or even discuss what they’re hearing now? For me, I find that the more music I hear, the less I want to mention specific relationships between players. That said, listening to Joe Morris does make me want to go and scour Tal Farlow recordings and Albert Ayler did lead back to Gene Ammons.

In art history we were always told that the importance of teaching students about artist X was to avoid repetition of practices – so the world wasn’t full of pseudonyms painted on upended urinals a la Duchamp. In music, the more one sounds like an artist who came before, the more respect or justification the current artist receives. We would rather trumpeter X be “the new Miles” than just be trumpeter X. To answer the question that I’ve heard time and again (from musicians even) – “When are we gonna hear the next Coltrane?” – I would say never. Coltrane was what he was and we can be thankful for that. Me, I’ll be listening to Trane with the same ears I’ll be listening to that young saxophonist who gave me his or her CD-R and trying to figure out what they have to say.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Notes from Underground

(above: original cover art for Phill Musra's LP The Creator Spaces)

I got a phone call tonight from Philip Musra, a reedman and composer living in Los Angeles. He’s not a figure who’s well-known in the jazz (or even avant-garde) community, though his work in the 1970s with his brother, multi-instrumentalist Michael Cosmic, Turkish-born drummer Huseyin Ertunc, and bassist-composer John Jamyll Jones is the stuff of curiosity and possibly legend. Part of what has made their music – available on a small scattering of privately-pressed LPs – so interesting is that it does not sound like anything else. I recently characterized the trio music (without Jones) as something like a collision between the AACM and Alan Sondheim’s Ritual 770 or another, similar wild-and-woolly artists’ collective. The group was based in Boston at the time and also worked with pianist Gene Ashton (now known as Cooper-Moore) and poet-vocalist Ntozake Shange, among others. Apparently Musra and Cosmic also spent time in Chicago studying with AACM musicians. Until recently, not much was known about their concurrent and subsequent activities.

For me, the music of Musra, Cosmic and Ertunc was extraordinarily important and seemed so from nearly the moment I heard it. At that time, I was focusing more on collecting records and listening than I was writing about music. There was a wall I felt had been reached in both my hearing and what I was exposing myself to—and It seemed like in this music there might be a fixed way of doing things. That sounds laughably naïve to me now, but sometimes one needs a good shove to the other side in order to conceive of the possibilities. Seven or eight years ago when I found these records, they were that very push. Shimmering percussion dense but hanging in midair, maniacal insistence on mini-organ chords or frantic arpeggios on a glockenspiel, and intertwining flutes and saxophones are the linguistic building blocks, and the dialect is unlike anything I had previously experienced.

Jazz and improvised music is a very big field with room for a hell of a lot of approaches, but as with any field it’s guilty of narrowing itself. As a reviewer of new releases, one can hear a decent slice of the music being made now (I'd hazard a guess that it's impossible to hear all of what's "relevant"), and certain methods become discernibly popular. Sometimes those methods are really interesting and provide a lot of fruit for both the improviser/composer and the listener. But that’s just when one needs a shock – not necessarily of the NEW BIG THING, but of an inversion of what’s already been done. Sometimes those refinements can be just enough to turn one on one’s ear, whether it’s the work of Musra and company or a younger crew of artists. It’s just as often “throwing shit at the wall to see if it sticks” as it is a measured approach to reassembling prior experiences into a unique object.

Of course, it’s not anybody’s job to “shock the critic” or one’s peers, and that is not entirely what I’m getting at. Doing what one does resolutely and well makes one impervious to flak, and who is to argue with the artist who is doing exactly what THEY want to do? However, I do sometimes feel the need to have my ears rechecked, and for that I’m very glad that there is music out there that defies traditional categorization or law. Often working resolutely and finding a way to entirely obscure the boundaries of convention or history go hand in hand.

~ Clifford

While not currently in print on vinyl, the music of Philip Musra, Michael Cosmic and Huseyin Ertunc can be found on the CD reissue of Ertunc’s Musiki, available here and here. Their participation in John Jamyll Jones’ Worlds Experience Orchestra is documented here. There will be more of Musra's music available in the near future, and we can look forward to a filling-in of a few of this music's historical holes.

Monday, February 16, 2009

We Jam Econo

I grew up being very uninterested in jazz. I didn’t hate it, but it did absolutely nothing for me, even into my teen years when I was becoming a bit more musically inclined. In 1997 or so, my tastes changed—first, from noisy guitar-rock and post-punk of the Dischord Records variety to post-Viennese classical music of the Twentieth Century. Then, I became interested in the music of Coltrane, Coleman, Dolphy, Ayler, Taylor, Archie Shepp, Bill Dixon et al. I didn’t grow up around that end of the jazz spectrum, so this was fairly unprecedented, though luckily I had a few friends who could at least provide me with some points of auditory reference.

I think what attracted me to this music was the fact that it had the rhythmic velocity and laidbare/immediate emotionality of the rock I was listening to, and the complexity, dissonance and counterpoint of musique contemporaine. I quickly sold my small collection of punk and indie-rock records – well, most of them anyway – and bought anything I could find from the Sixties catalogs of ESP-Disk’, Impulse, and Blue Note, setting off a journey that I’m still following and making sense of today. However, I didn’t give up on indie-rock completely and still kept a pulse on what I felt were the more interesting artists in that diverse field, new and not-so-new.

But there must be something beyond structure and emotionalism that attracts indie seekers like myself to the jazz milieu. I was listening earlier this evening to Pipedream, an album by English trumpeter Marc Charig from 1977, recorded exactly a week after my birth. It’s pretty avant-garde even by improvised standards, joining Charig with masses of sound from an organ or, alternately, plucked zither and bells, from the fingers of pianist Keith Tippett and occasional vocal peals courtesy of Ann Winter. Though acoustic, one might place the music in between the poles of ultra-spare electric Miles and post-Cageian classical work. The threesome recorded this LP in a church owned (or rented) by their friend, Neville Whitehead, a bassist. They set up and paid for the recording themselves and maybe got some grant money out of the Arts Council of Great Britain. It was released on another friend’s label, Ogun, run by bassist Harry Miller and his wife Hazel. Ogun got fairly decent distribution in the US through a few channels, about what you’d expect from Revolver today or Dutch East in the 1980s (distributors of Homestead, New Alliance, etc.). Though Harry Miller is deceased, Ogun is still active.

Now on deck is a current release from saxophonist Joe McPhee with his trio, Trio X: Live in Vilnius. It’s a small-edition LP, released in about 500 copies by an upstart Lithuanian label called No Business. No Business mostly puts out live and studio recordings made in their home base, of jazz musicians who are far from household names. Mats Gustafsson, a Swedish reedman who has released two records on No Business, recently appeared in Austin with The Thing, his trio with Norwegians Paal Nilssen-Love (drums) and Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (bass). They played at Ruby’s Barbecue for the restaurant’s twentieth anniversary, high-octane energy music that occasionally includes covers of tunes from artists as diverse as South African trumpeter Mongezi Feza and Providence, Rhode Island punk band Lightning Bolt.

The Thing are lucky to have grants from their respective countries to tour the US, and their performances bring an audience that seems far from that which you’d expect from jazz musicians. Most of their fans are young to middle age and forty-something Gustafsson has plugs in his earlobes, sporting close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair, black jeans and a black t-shirt. When asked what they were doing after the gig, the response was that they hoped to catch a local “house show.”

I was recently interviewing drummer Ravish Momin for All About Jazz. Momin is a New York-based percussionist whose work has explored “traditional” free jazz as well as Indian, East Asian and North African forms, and I spoke to him about his busy touring schedule. “We got a grant from the Asian Arts Agency of Bristol, UK and from the English Arts Council as well, and we did about six or eight gigs in England. Then we did Jazz Ao Centro, in Portugal – Pedro [Costa, of Clean Feed Records] brought us over there. Then we did a Canadian tour where we did the IronWorks in Vancouver and went through Alberta. Finally, we did a Midwest tour in October, and a tour in China that we came back from a couple of weeks ago. We actually made money on all of it, too…

"a lot of our work is in Europe, and they’re inherently open. They’ll have Fennesz another night and yet here in the States, it’s actually getting worse. There are some new venues opening up in New York doing good things, but a lot of stuff is closed to us. I don’t put a lot of energy into playing in New York because it’s so much work whereas in Europe, the audience is already there and excited to see you play. You don’t have to hustle so much. It makes you feel that people care about improvised music.”

But Momin explained to me that he has had to pay a publicist out of pocket to get his CDs reviewed and has set up each and every tour himself by emailing promoters and other musicians constantly. And for those who assume that promoters in the US (or even in Europe) are with bottomless wallets let it be known that the improvising musician is not unused to staying on a futon or sleeping on a floor in an unfamiliar city, either.

Another interviewee, saxophonist/flutist Carlos Ward, once spoke to me in 2004 (also for an interview in All About Jazz) of the time he spent with drummer Sunny Murray’s Acoustical Swing Unit, leading up to a gig at the Both/And Club in San Francisco in 1967: “Sunny says ‘yeah, I got us a gig in San Francisco and we’re gonna travel by car and take this music out there.’ The club owner apparently saw Sunny in New York and told him to call him if he was ever in town. Sunny took it to mean ‘oh, I can go to San Francisco and he’ll give me a gig,’ which means he didn’t have a gig. We’re on the road in this car, all five of us, and we stopped at one of these pancake houses one morning. We had a little storage closet on top of the car, and I had the key. Me and Alan [Silva, bassist] were washing up and nobody else wanted to – they wanted to eat. Sunny says ‘we already ate,’ I was just getting to the table and wanted to eat. Sunny says ‘gimme the key, we’re gonna leave you. We have to get to San Francisco ‘cause they’re waiting for us!’

“I ate something and I wasn’t gonna give up that key. Next thing you know, we move from inside to outside arguing, and I was amazed that nobody was trying to look out for me… this is the time of universal brotherhood, and there’s some strange shit going on! Everybody in the pancake house was getting angry, and so they called the sheriff to get us into the car and move on! Here I am in the car having to talk Sunny out of stranding me, and so I said ‘damn, how come nobody’s trying to tell him how wrong he is? Pharoah [Sanders, tenor saxophonist] says, ‘well, you’re not doing any good!’ Finally I talked him out of it, though.”
It’s a road story probably not unfamiliar to do-it-yourself bands ready to strangle one another after weeks on the road eating crappy diner food. Ward also related that, when playing Toronto, there wasn’t a hotel waiting for them, but rather mattresses on a cold loft floor.

I’ve often thought of jazz being comparable to “indie rock” and a reformation of these ideas recently followed from listening to and reviewing new music by guitarist Mary Halvorson’s trio (Dragon’s Head, Firehouse12, 2008). The bassist, Jon Hebert, played with late Blue Note pianist Andrew Hill and the drummer, Ches Smith, with Xiu Xiu. Halvorson, meanwhile, was a student of composer Anthony Braxton. The aesthetic is somewhere between Don Caballero and Storm&Stress and a Terje Rypdal power trio, and I’ll say it as elsewhere – it’s the best “indie rock” record I’ve heard in some time. I’ll be reviewing cellist-composer-improviser Peggy Lee’s new disc on Drip Audio, New Code, soon, and suffice it to say that though ensemble interaction is paramount, the group’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “All I Really Want to Do” is shot through with the Balkan brass of Beirut and the expansive twang of Pinetop Seven. It’s an honest cover that places her—and the group’s—aesthetic in a zone reaching out from the avant-garde and into journeyman music that is daresay hummable. Along the lines of Nels Cline’s Draw Breath (Cryptogramophone, 2007) and Marc Ribot, there are waiting in the wings at least a few more jazz-indie crossover artists.

But “indie-rock” has always meant “independent,” even with respect to bands seemingly well-known or canonized. And independent is a term applicable to both aesthetics and business. The latter point Momin drives home: “People assume that they’re going to get calls because of their merit and have tours, but by and large if you’re not one of the chosen ones, you have to be out there selling yourself. I was talking to a curator of a Brooklyn-based venue, and he was telling me that a lot of the jazz guys won’t even do any promo; they won’t send emails, nothing. How do they expect anybody to know about it? To be self-fulfilling and self-actualizing, it has to work from the angle of the labels and the musicians who have to realize that they need to be self-sufficient. Records don’t sell themselves and you have to get a publicist and an agent, or be your own.” As the situation dictates, whether for Carlos Ward and Sunny Murray in 1967 or Ravish Momin and many others today, the Minutemen credo “We Jam Econo” poignantly holds true.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

In Search Of... Marginal Titles

In this installment of Ni Kantu, I’m going to delve again into the world of collecting and archiving music. I won’t always be posting on this subject – believe it or not, there are other things that get me going – but in light of the current download-mania “everything’s free” climate, a little hard-won objectification seems like a reasonable antidote. So it’s on to the margins. And by margins, I don’t necessarily mean the uber-obscure nuggets that professional crate-diggers like to lord over the rest of the primarily uncaring world. I’m speaking more in terms of the pile of marginal titles that is resting against a speaker stand… and against the lower rung of my record shelves.

Marginal titles contain, for me, two types of records: decent but uncollectible records that are too good to let go, or those which, while great, are so ubiquitous as to be taken for granted quite easily. So I have a couple of stacks of records that don’t fit in with my “collecting” interests, but I really don’t have the inclination to sell them. If I consigned them at a local shop, nobody would even buy them. But despite my fairly democratic shelf space, they haven’t yet earned their keep to be filed away. Don’t get me wrong, I do unload things that serve no great interest or could stand a condition upgrade (my girlfriend will forever rib me for replacing an otherwise solid cover because of a promo sticker). However, a steadily increasing pile of records seems to be acting the proverbial stray kitten that I kept feeding until somehow it became mine. And before long, I loved that kitten – er, I mean, pile.

The marginal stack includes some things that might surprise another music fan – live bootlegs of Charlie Parker and Bud Powell that I admittedly rarely spin; saxophonist Dave Liebman’s Lookout Farm on ECM, the John McLaughlin sides on Douglas, and the Elvin Jones record pictured above. Jones’s Blue Notes were recorded at a time when fusion was just beginning to gain traction in the jazz world, and hard bop/mainstream jazz was no longer attracting a healthy audience (that in itself is a questionable construct dissectible another day). They have extraordinarily dated cover art and are lesser-quality pressings than Blue Notes of yore.

Sidemen like saxophonists Steve Grossman and Dave Liebman, bassist Gene Perla, and pianist Jan Hammer don’t elicit the response of a Hank Mobley or Sonny Clark from the hardboppers, yet the players here are extraordinarily strong in form as Jones’s cussing and spitting thrum pushes all comers to a higher plane. In other words, records like Mr. Jones, Genesis, Prime Element and Poly-Currents are fairly serious dates and none of them should cost more than $10 on vinyl. They were also conveniently available on a CD boxed set (now out of print). And they're on my floor.

Yes, collector snobbishness prevents Mr. Jones and its ilk from occupying that sweet spot between scarce sides by trumpeters Carmell Jones and Leo Jones in the racks, though they would be offset by a couple of rarer (and earlier) Elvin Jones albums. Similarly, saxophonist Gato Barbieri’s debut Impulse! recording, Chapter One: Latin America (a certifiably gonzo set joining the itinerant Argentine’s buzzsaw tenor with South American studio musicians), rests on the floor rather than with its overdriven ESP-Disk brethren, In Search of the Mystery (1967, with Calo Scott, cello; Sirone, bass; Bobby Kapp, drums) in the B’s. Sad to say, if it were on Trova and came with a heavy-stock sleeve, that Barbieri would be in the shelf.

Compact discs aren’t immune from similar sorting issues, though as a reviewer, I tend to make the cutoff at keeping those discs which I found the most stimulating and expect years of enjoyment from (or at least as long as we have CD players) and let everything else go. It has nothing to do with collectibility and everything to do with space, time, and interest. There is sentimentalism to records, even if they’re only “decent,” that lets them stay for as long as they want, provided they are in good condition. The only thing they have to do is keep the floor clean.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Reissue This?

At one point I used to pen an occasional column for Paris Transatlantic called “Reissue This.” I took an in-depth look at certain recordings, most of them hard to find and not extant in the digital realm, and made a case for their value in the contexts/history of modern improvisation. No call was made to specific labels, though a couple of titles – Norman Howard’s Burn Baby Burn and Selwyn Lissack’s Friendship Next of Kin, for example – were in fact reissued on the strength of the column. As an avid collector, I wasn’t necessarily perusing the blogosphere for stuff that was being file-shared or made downloadable as something that would be a good candidate; normally, I just picked something out of my collection that I liked and thought relevant. However, this Paris Transatlantic column became referenced by some of the sites offering illegal downloads of titles that I had mentioned – John Tchicai’s Cadentia Nova Danica on Polydor was one.

At the time I thought that was pretty wack – I didn’t condone people ripping FLAC files of rare albums and throwing them up on the web for anybody. It’s not just because, like some people, I prefer to have the object in hand and really don’t care to own a copy unless it’s the real thing, whether vinyl or CD. I think that the artist does deserve some compensation. But then again, if I’m paying dough for a used copy of an LP, the artist is of course not receiving a dime from that sale (though one would hope that they did upon the issuance of the title).

Yet in my quest to hear as much as possible from a given artist’s oeuvre, I have also traded tapes and CD-Rs among friends to acquire unissued live recordings. I write it off as something “educational” that I’m able to learn more about an artist whom I may at some point interview or write about. I don’t download these things myself, but in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter – it is a behavior that’s equally questionable in its morality. My interest in such practice in light of the ethics of download mania has waned a bit. I still have and listen to those recordings, some of them quite frequently, ill-gotten gains as they are.

This subject is on the brain, however sketchily, because of a few things that have come to light in recent months. One is that an article was published in the Wire on trumpeter-composer Bill Dixon; the writer later bragged on another site that he had downloaded certain titles from the artist’s oeuvre for free from some of these obscure-music blogs. I don’t know if it’s much different that I paid $40 for out of print vinyl from the same artist years ago, but at least it wasn’t being shared and passed along the information superhighway. I also interviewed Dixon, and he railed against the lack of appreciation for artists on the part of record companies AND the refusal of citizens to pay for their art. By the same token, I acquired a CD-R of unissued performances of one of his orchestras as a prequel to the article, but since it was not being shared and was for my own “education” he was copacetic with my acquisition and review of this music.

Now, Eremite Records has re-released two rare vinyl albums by Sunny Murray and the Black Artists’ Group. These are in limited-edition runs of 600 copies on LP with no CD or authorized digital-download counterpart. They are being presented as facsimile reprints, sort of like “art reprints” authorized by the artists. The label proprietor has asked one of these download blogs to take down files of the Sunny Murray from the site, a request that the site complied with. But, with respect to those who don’t have the means to listen to them on vinyl, this is a fairly limited medium. In all likelihood, after the Eremite reissues have gone out of print, these will be up again on the blogs to download. And I'm still quizzical as to why Eremite is not doing a CD version of this as well, or a legitimized download at, say, $5 a track with proceeds going to the artist.

I don’t have the perfect prescription to these problems. I don’t approve of the “instant record collection” that the downloaders have access to. But does it excuse my own acquisition of unlicensed material for research purposes – even if I DO buy a significant amount of records and can act in good conscience on that front? Does it matter to prattle on about the artist’s right to compensation on a bootlegged release that in its original incarnation didn’t net the artist more than a $50 session fee and a sandwich?

I had been hoping – in my small way – to once and for all make a definitive statement of my own on the downloading phenomenon, but the more I think about it the less immune from criticism I become as both a consumer and a collector. The "old model" for distributing music is fast changing, but should one necessarily be forced to give up the "old model" of consuming or, more importantly, appreciating it?

- Bill Shoemaker weighs in here

- Michael Ehlers weighs in here

- Dan Warburton weighs in here

- I weigh in confused as ever.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Prince Lasha, 1929-2008

In conducting interviews with musicians, I have been lucky enough to consider many of these artists – those who I’ve spent countless hours listening to – friends and colleagues. Even those who aren’t exactly peers and who had contributed a significant body of work to the art form a decade or so before I was even a glimmer in my mother’s eye. One of the artists who I became immediately attached to was the reedman Prince Lasha, who passed away December 11 at age 79. I interviewed Lasha (or “Peasant Prince” as he liked to be called) for All About Jazz New York in 2004. At that time, he was working in Odean Pope’s Saxophone Choir alongside Michael Brecker and James Carter. We spoke over the phone for a few hours and called it a night, getting down to the vibrant nitty-gritty of his life from working with altoist Sonny Simmons and recording with Eric Dolphy, Texas saxophone players, touring Europe and his subsequent success in real estate.

It didn’t take long before Lasha began to call me up to reminisce about the halcyon days and talk about his philosophy, spirituality, books he was reading and records he’d like to release. His tape cache must have been astounding—he recorded EVERYTHING. When he was working on new compositions he’d call me up on the phone and play them to me, often while at the beach drinking chardonnay. He’d set the cordless down and purr on baritone crystalline ballads, or deft flute birdsong.

One thing which really struck me about getting to know someone as deep in the music as Lasha was how listening to his records became like another conversation with him – the cadences in his solos were exactly like that of his speech. Bubbly, vibrant and overflowing with joy and poetry, they were like a long laugh and more than a few gentle prods in the direction of a complexity far greater than earthbound thought. Lasha had the habit of giving everyone he befriended a new name; he said it went back to his friendship with Ornette Coleman in Fort Worth in the Forties, when Ornette was “Captain Hornblower” and he was “Peasant Prince.” I became “Allen’s Alley” for Allen Eager, and my then-girlfriend was “Trolley for Molly.” My mom, Susan, was “Sweet Sue.” And so on. When he had musician friends over, he would pass the phone to them so that we could meet, and I always felt invited to the party, even though I could never be there in person – Lasha lived in Oakland, California and as a funds-short writer and student, I never seemed to have the bread together to buy a plane ticket out there. I figured it would happen eventually, but it never did.

I became inordinately busy with graduate school in 2005 and our phone conversations became infrequent, finally tapering off later that year as other demands took over. Lasha didn’t use email, of course, but he was really only a phone call away. It feels like there should be an apology to Peasant Prince for losing touch, but I know he would say something like this (with a chuckle): “It isn’t anything, brother. The most important thing is you’re here right now!” So thank you, Prince, for letting me be a part of your life and sharing your experiences with me. It meant a ton.

Rest in peace.

Photo courtesy of Mark Sheldon.

Complete interview with Prince Lasha here.

Recommended Listening:

Prince Lasha and Sonny Simmons – The Cry! (Contemporary, 1962)
Eric Dolphy – Conversations (FM, 1963)
Elvin Jones-Jimmy Garrison Sextet – Illumination! (Impulse, 1963)
Prince Lasha Ensemble – Insight (CBS, 1966)
Prince Lasha and Sonny Simmons – Firebirds (Contemporary, 1967)
Prince Lasha Firebirds – Live at Berkeley Jazz Festival (Birdseye, 1972)
Prince Lasha meets the Odean Pope Trio – The Mystery of Prince Lasha (CIMP, 2005)

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Numbers Are In...

2008 was, for me, a pretty good year as far as record releases go - a significant amount of new recordings really piqued my interest, and the reissue mill wasn't too shabby either. I believe that this is the first time I've ever submitted a "list," though I think my choices were different for both the Village Voice Jazz Critics Poll and the All About Jazz poll...

Irrespective of genre, here are some titles that really struck my fancy. Some of these I have reviewed elsewhere, others not. For reviews of these discs, take a quick trip over to All About Jazz, Dusted, or Signal To Noise - all have been covered extensively.

In no particular order other than alpahbetical, my top new discs are:

Jason Adasiewicz: Roll Down (482 Music)
Angles: Every Woman Is A Tree (Clean Feed)
Barkingside: Barkingside (Emanem)
Anthony Braxton & Joe Morris: Four Improvisations (Duo) 2007 (Clean Feed)
Andrew Raffo Dewar: Six Lines of Transformation (Porter)
Bill Dixon with Exploding Star Orchestra (Thrill Jockey)
Bill Dixon: Seventeen Musicians In Search of a Sound - Darfur (AUM Fidelity)
Sakoto Fujii ma-do: Heat Wave (Not Two)
Mary Halvorson Trio: Dragon's Head (Firehouse 12)
Ideal Bread: The Ideal Bread (KMB Jazz)
Louis Moholo-Moholo: Duets with Marilyn Crispell (Intakt)
Alfredo Costa Monteiro: Centre of Mass (Another Timbre)
Trio Viriditas (Harth/Morris/Norton): Live at Vision Festival VI (Clean Feed)
Chris Speed/Chris Cheek/Stephane Furic Leibovici: Jugendstil (ESP-Disk)
Sunset: The Glowing City (Autobus)

Reissues and unearthed gems:

Kevin Ayers: What More Can I Say (Reel Recordings)
Robbie Basho: Bonn Ist Supreme (Bo'Weavil)
Anthony Braxton: The Arista Recordings (Mosaic)
Brotherhood of Breath: Eclipse at Dawn (Cuneiform)
Graham Collier Music: Deep Dark Blue Centre/Portraits/The Alternate Mosaics (BGO)
Ted Daniel: Tapestry (Porter)
The Flying Luttenbachers: Trauma (ugExplode)
Elodie Lauten: The Death of Don Juan (Unseen Worlds)
Chris McGregor: Up To Earth (Fledg'Ling)
Mij: Colour by the Numbers (ESP-Disk)
Roscoe Mitchell: Nonaah (Nessa)
Musica Elettronica Viva: Friday (Alga Marghen)
Orange: In the Midst of Chaos (De Stijl)
Heikki Sarmanto: Counterbalance (Porter)
Sun Ra: Secrets of the Sun (Atavistic)

Other than that, people are still dying with less recognition than they should have, people aren't getting paid for reissues of their material, and downloading is rampant.

Please support your independend music retailers, either online or (GASP!!!) in a storefront near you and check out some of these recordings.