Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bill Dixon and the Impossible Coda

"For Charlie Parker" - Lithograph, 50 x 34.5 cm.
Villeurbanne, France. [Winter/1994]
Shortly, I'll be publishing two reviews of and reflections on music by Bill Dixon - one a reissue of the landmark LP Intents and Purposes, recorded for RCA-Victor in 1967 and now on CD for the first time through International Phonograph, the other Dixon's final new recording, Envoi, just released on Victo (for Paris Transatlantic and Destination:Out, respectively). It would be unfair to completely compare two discs of material recorded nearly forty-five years apart. There has been so much done in between these two poles that it would be disingenuous to attempt to even put them on the same page in a discussion. As Bill Dixon often said, "the only thing these works have in common is that I did them." There's a little bit of discomfort stemming on my part from the fact that the newer work could be overshadowed by the first CD issue of a storied classic. I've lived with Intents and Purposes for many years - it's among the first creative music LPs that I purchased in college, and it holds a great deal of love and continued fascination for me. But having gotten to know Dixon personally in his last years, the new work or the next work and its importance often took precedence, as it should. Truly, there is very little in common between the two recordings, though textures of low reeds and strings, coupled with high brass explosions and surging percussion might on the surface be a shared language. We don't have him among the living anymore, and there will not be any "new" work of his to hear, but in a way that's all right. He opened things up in an extraordinary way for what's next, and for me personally, understanding the necessity of the present is what gets me more excited about cracking open a new CD from a young or middle-aged master than most of what comes down the reissue pike. That said, the timelessness of great music is still something to reflect on, and that's why it can (and should) take years to parse archival recordings by people like Dixon, or Roscoe Mitchell, or Cecil Taylor, Steve Lacy, Evan Parker, Teddy Charles, Andrew Hill or any of the other great musician-composers who have come before. Hopefully the reflections to come will be accurate, and that his music not only continues to be heard, but that it will continue to inspire musicians to do what they do.

Note: Rather than copying images of the album covers in question or photos of Bill, I've used one of his lithographs originally included in the article In Medias Res. His artwork is just as much of a fascination, although of a different sort. Hopefully a folio of his visual art, writings, and scores will become available.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

To My Buddy, Buddy (Full Disclosure)

It’s easy to feel lucky being part of the relatively close-knit community around improvised and creative music. Whether one is a supporter through buying CDs and going to gigs, or a writer/interviewer, or a historian and collector, the shared interest and accessibility of the music’s living creators is something not always available in the rock and “indie” world. But in the age of social networking – which has become pretty much part and parcel of the writer’s tools as well as the musician’s or the promoter’s – these relationships become more complex. I started thinking about this more in earnest when I began writing reviews for Tiny Mix Tapes, which is a site covering (mostly) current indie rock, punk, experimental and what-not releases; I’ve been occasionally plugging some of the new improvised music releases as well as the occasional “other folks’ music” disc. Anyway, one of the rules at TMT – as well as, one would assume, a number of the larger or more mainstream review magazines and blogs – is that one is not allowed to review releases by one’s friends (or, obviously, significant other or family member). That’s all well and good, but it becomes a challenge being part of the real and virtual music community.

After all, with Facebook, Twitter, and now G+, the lines between “friends,” “acquaintances,” “colleagues,” and “network” are quite blurry. I am proud and happy to consider friends some excellent artists and musicians (and label owners, promoters, etc. as well), and my hope is that objectivity is still part of the equation. A very close friend runs a psych and experimental music label, and I feel comfortable enough asking pertinent questions for a review of one of his discs. I also don’t feel obligated to review something he puts out that isn’t to my taste. Recently, I wrote an article on a Texas percussionist-composer for Signal To Noise, which did not in any way feel like buttering up a drinking buddy (as though that would ever need to be done). Another good friend is a guitarist in New York who gigs frequently and whose records I’ve enjoyed and reviewed positively – but for whom I also would not feel required to do so. There are a lot of examples in my own life of this kind of thing. It is a very common situation, and now even moreso as lines between personal and professional relationships become diffuse. Many of the younger writers (and even some from earlier generations) are tied in to social networking sites and spend time back-and-forthing with the subjects of their articles and reviews, though it’s probably not a new phenomenon. I can imagine someone like Ira Gitler sharing a beer with Roswell Rudd in the mid-Sixties or another writer sending back-and-forth communiqu├ęs on life and interests with a musician whose work they follow.

It seems like one should be able to be honest enough in their discussion of a record that friendships would not suffer (or that reviews would be just more back-washing). But then again, the question of objectivity or non-objectivity has itself become rather absurd as nobody in their right mind reviews something they don’t have some taste for or against. If I write about a recording (usually positively, because negative reviews seem like a waste of energy), it’s because it fits in with the things I like listening to, thinking about, and writing about. Ultimately, the idea of encouraging community and, perhaps, a broader dialogue on issues in creative music would seem to trump whether or not one went halvsies on a pizza with a restructural trumpeter. In good faith, I’ll continue to be engaged as much as I can with trying to parse the meaning and value of this music with friends, colleagues, and new faces via the online and real-time network. In the meantime, please stay tuned for July reviews of music made by people I’ve never met as well as those for whom I was, perhaps, best man at their wedding.