ROUND-UP: INTER-ISSUE MISCELLANEA
By David Grundy
Albums visited and revisited afresh and anew over the past year or so:
DAVID MURRAY with STRINGS, ‘Waltz Again’, from a few years back: time to rewrite the jazz with strings story; yes, Charlie Parker, yes, Art Pepper and Stan Getz and (less often mentioned in this lineage) Alice Coltrane and Ornette Coleman (where the strings actually bloom into fractal patterns and shards of light rather than forming alterantely limpid and gloopy lumps or pools of solid or stolid sound backdrop : viz : Skies of America : Universal Consciousness); in Murray’s case, knotty melodies with blarts and blares and yowls in the multi-faceted ‘Pushkin Suite’; and dark-toned, weirdly exhilarating ruminations in ‘Dark Days’, like cruising on a slow night joyride; too, balladry in that open-heart on sleeve lurching romanticism which comes out of Mingus and which is a legacy also not often talked about enough, certainly in relation to Murray – who synthesizes that with a freely discoursing style, a solo construction often more logical than, say, Frank Wright or Ayler or Pharoah (in his fire-breathing early days), harking back instead to early trick effects, Fess Williams or Wilton Crawley or somesuch, turning them into full vocabulary elements with which to do more than deliver show-stops or gleaming highlights – that whole-of-jazz-history thang which too generally comes off as glib, like parroting facts of dates or facets of styles (say, James Carter at his most technically gifted and least emotionally convincing) – but here turned wild and real and making you consider that as a real direction in which jazz could go, could get out of its real or perceived rut; his sense of ensemble dynamics and ability to just write really good, memorable tunes, too: and working with the right sidemen – Lafayette Gilchrist is up there with Matthew Shipp, I’d say, or will be in a few years; certainly, he excites me more than Robert Glasper, and can do that post-hip-hop-jazz-synthesis thing too, tho’ he’s at his best not doing that, just playing strong and dark and sweet as suits the mood and form, here.
Guilty pleasure, I guess: the recent internet (re-)surfacing of a 45″ recorded in 1976 on the short-lived PEOPLE’S WAR record label by THE ADVANCED WORKERS WITH THE ANTI-IMPERIALIST SINGERS: i.e. Amiri Baraka, writing some lyrics/slogans and declaiming a bit, to some really good funk music by members of Parliament, Funkadelic and the Commodores, the dominant voice being that of Winston Sims on saxophone, who imparts the opening statement of the melody on second side’s ‘Better Red Let Others Be Dead’ with a kind of yearning which I find quite moving, really, and bittersweet, even as I can’t say why, exactly, on the surface of it, it is that, seeming instead simply to be purposeful and joyous, wanting to be and perhaps really being anthemic (and not in the awful U2 way music journos tend to use that word): “HEY SON, US BE RED, US BE RED…THE EARTH BELONGS TO THE PEOPLE – THE WEALTH BELONGS TO THE PEOPLE – the EARTH belongs to the people – the WEALTH belongs to the people.” Yeah, well, the lyrics do have that comedy value, I guess – depending on yr politics – but can you not love lines like “and when they said party, they meant an anti-revisionist revolutionary Communist party…and if you asked them what truths they party taught, they’d say marxism-leninism-mao-tse-tung thought…marxism-leninism-mao-tse-tung thought” (chant x 5)…um, at least in context and sheer unexpected…clumsiness? daring? obliviousness? real and true belief?. And the music is, really, so good – the way a guitar suddenly comes thrumming in under the final repetition of that chant, little surfacings of slap bass, even the unintended reed-shriek in Sims’ otherwise exhilirating and efficient solo on ‘You Was Dancin’, reaching towards some sort of organised chaos at the end, as massed horns blare melody recapitulations in increasing fervour and funk-feeling – another attempt on that synthesis between avant-garde and music of the people that Baraka attempted (with some success, often ridiculous nationalist phase lyrics/poems notwithstanding), on ‘It’s Nation Time’, released four years earlier (pre- the third or fourth career conversion). And tell me, what other song connects marching to dancing in such a convincing way? Captures the protest potential of public social good-time music? It wants to be a 70s ‘Dancing in the Streets’. Hell, maybe it almost is. What other pop song that you can think of contains phrases like “in a capitalistic way?” Alright, I’m liking this for nostalgia (tho’ I wasn’t even alive at the time); or for retro-chic; but it is more than a novelty record, OK? Put it on before you go to the pub, feel yr feet lift off the ground outside.
There’s also this, involving Baraka – WILLIAM PARKER’S ‘Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield’ (this is the earlier live album on Rai Trade, not the 2-disc set that came out thru AUM/Fidelity a couple of years later) – one song in particular, the ‘cover’ of ‘Freddie’s Dead’. During the first few minutes one might think: what the hell does this rollicking celebratory riff have to do with that most sweetly sad and bitter of Mayfield’s songs, that keening to-the-quick-cutting lament? those pounding drums (crisp clear recording), Parker’s locked-in bass, the horns on. But then: Baraka screaming ‘FREAAAHHHHDDIE’! over or under or alongside the righteous high-funk of leena conquest’s delivery (‘hey-hey…yeah-yeah…oh lord’) – the first of these shouts spat out just as the chords change to that sad-sweetest part of the song (“ripped him off and abused him”) – proceding to rap his own commentary, or gloss on mayfield’s song, turning a lament and a call for love into a righteous political diatribe (but not as righteous or polemical or prosaic as some he’s churned out): working on paradox (“death is the worst shit we know / but there ain’t no such thing as dead”) like conflicting emotions of sadness and anger at the news of this death, voice inhabiting these characters, etc. and then the central improvised section: the way that no one takes a solo as such, the horns engaging in collective riffing or blowing, one of the sax players (i think mateen?) at one point playing (7:03, check it) one of the most startingly scream-like altissimo tones I think I’ve ever heard (and I’ve heard a few….), suddenly, mystifyingly, playing the ‘a love supreme head’ – not, as too often, as corny easy cheap cliche ‘homage’ but somehow saying something with it, signifying, saying love sorrow hate, like mayfield, death shd lead us to love, baraka, death shd lead us to resist (“the main thing is to be against death! everything else is a chump”)…then burrell’s piano left with bass and drums, for all the world like we’ve suddenly entered dave brubeck’s ‘take five’…I don’t know whether these are stylistic mis-steps, perhaps? To me they’re engagingly perverse in a way I wasn’t expecting from Parker’s generally more righteous or even po-faced music: but hell, if you can throw A Love Supreme and funkified, soul-ified Dave Brubeck and political diatribe and curtis mayfield and silvio berlusconi into the mix and it still come out this true (those ruptures maybe what makes it hold true – all united by the beat, of course, that collectivity in rhythm that greg tate so loves in miles davis’ 70s electric voodoo) – then you must be doing something right.
ANDREW HILL: realizing that there is a ton stuff out there that just don’t get talked about or heard or re-released. I mean, what mostly is available is the 60s Blue Note stuff and the most recent recordings, made in the years before his death, but that leaves as a gap perhaps his most fertile and interesting period, the 70s into early 80s: two very different trios, one with Richard Davis and Roger Blank, NEFERTITI, released, I think, only in Japan, on the East Wind label – listen to the way Blank’s malleted drums boil and swell on the 15-minute long ‘Blue Black’, which opens the record, rhythmic fluidity in long-form flow, really something in which the whole body finds itself pulsing and propulsing and flowing too, a kind of smooth jerkiness, absolutely gorgeous and involving, intelectually, emotionally, all of it; and STRANGE SERENADE, the other one, this on Soul Note, Alan Silva and Freddie Waits this time, again opening with a 15-minute long excursion, not quite reaching the heights of NEFERTITI, but, well, Silva is a fine addition to any trio…And SPIRAL, a couple of 1970s dates, probably most notable for featuring Steve Lacy, not someone you’da thought would make the most ideal horn partner for Hill, tart and sharp over Hill’s dark and shaded and peppery voicings, and, well, maybe that suspicion would be proved correct, tho’ I think it may take a few more listens to definitively get it or not get it…But what really gets me, here, is actually the final track, with Robin Kenyatta on alto – Kenyatta a name I’d heard but whose music I’d not come across much before, upon investigation rather wasting himself in fusion-poppy contexts (some mildly-Fela-like stuff; a jazz-reggae album with a rare guest appearance from the great Betty Davis (sadly not as full or rasping as on her classics early 70s solo records); a rather odd ECM album marred by some dated clavinet and echo effects, and by indifferent programming, but still probably the best of the bunch – yes, so OK there’s that, but then there’s this, the final track on ‘Spiral’, a composition sharing its name with the tune that closed Archie Shepps’ Attica Blues, where it was sung by Cal Massey’s 7-yr old daughter, which I always found simultaneously touching and a huge, crudely sentimental misfire – ‘Quiet Dawn’ it is, anyway, no relation, just an original Hill composition, and not particularly harmonically adventurous or free-form or anything like that, just a ballad, but delivered with the most scorching and beautifully-judged soul by Kenyatta, not hysteria or sentimental grandstanding but just perfect, aching, tender playing, as I guess Arthur Blythe was capable of – check his version of ‘Autumn in New York’ on another ‘with strings’ album (see above), Basic Blythe, a conviction that’d cut thru any studio string section…
CECIL TAYLOR, as always, more and more bootlegs piling up on the hard-drive even as he seems to be (eventually) cutting back on the concert dates, sticking mainly to solos, still as graceful and architecturally honed as ever, I hear, maybe more so, having reached a kind of fluid fixity that is, I guess, his ‘late style’, without, maybe, the surprise that that lateness would possess in Beethoven or Mahler or even Derek Bailey (the real grace of those ‘Ballads’ or ‘Standards’ records, the unflinching stripping-down of ‘Carpal Tunnel Syndrome’). One recording in particular I’ve been returning to, a 1976 concert at THE POWER CENTRE, Michigan State University, round about the same time as DARK TO THEMSELVES, I suppose, this same band on a European tour (which I believe was filmed at some stage, tho’ the tapes are no doubt buried deep in the concrete archives of some broadcasting body, beside variety shows and old newscasts and all manner of things televisual): opening, unusually, with a drum solo, Marc Edwards with a power and intensity that still today he’s putting to use, increasingly in noise-metal related contexts with the likes of Weasel Walter (and I see from facebook that he’s just done a first-time duo with Mick Barr – sparks surely to fly there); then those long, long, Cecil melodies, compositions I should say, that weird elegance about them, elegance with the threat and promise of fire within, containing all the energy to explode out in unstoppable torrent as we expect, but lots of alternating episodes here, in a more compressed format than, say, the endless and overwhelming collectivities of ONE TOO MANY SALTY SWIFT AND NOT GOODBYE, a really gorgeous piano-trumpet duet in which Raphe Malik channels Miles and Cecil’s piano with it just breaks your heart, another Cecil duo with David S.Ware, this time Ware on tenor treading more subtly a ground between his usual full-bodied musculature and some kind of more retiring, even delicately hesitant spirit that was in the air, in the crack and corners, the little edges and interludes of the music, that night. “Petals, just once through – Petals…”
Oddly enough, ARCHIE SHEPP singing – yeah, doing that – a version of ‘Cry me a River’ from one of the numerous Japanese-label ballad albums he’s been churning out since the 70s, here, tho’, with the masterful John Hicks (also check out a duo performance, up on youtube, in which he duets with Pharoah Sanders on a tune of his called ‘After the Morning’, which is mellow and ecstatic without being boring or hide-bound as Sanders could be once his rapprochement with some kind of comfortable ‘spiritual’ post-bop semi-mainstream was completed). Yes, of course, it’s pure showmanship, an impersonation of the wise, dissolute old blues singer, which mythology kicked off into, say, the Rolling Stones, or comes full circle into dull retro now with Seasick Steve (head of him?); but somehow he makes each nuance and contour of the tune matter, takes you into that song as great jazz singers do – not that I’m saying he is a great jazz singer, and generally those vocals do grate, actually, but here…I don’t know, there’s something in it that appeals, anyhow. Also, on a different, but similar record – same band, I think – a version of ‘Blue in Green’ rather more intense and (melo-)dramatically melancholy than the usual approach to that tune, so indebted to the definitive version set forth on ‘Kind of Blue’. Just little things like that – and, of course, Shepp’s endless soloing in dark and righteously defiant, even I guess you could say, sexually-inflected, mode, on Jackie McLean’s ‘Hipnosis’, from A SEA OF FACES – and a rather good version of ‘Giant Steps’, LIVE AT THE TOTEM (far better than the hideous distorted ugliness of the short attempt on DOWNHOME NEW YORK) – and a biting solo with the Coltrane Quartet in 1965 at the Downbeat Jazz Festival at Chicago (this from a bootleg with distinctly B-grade sound quality, but that solo cuts through all the hiss, and the years)…There’s still stuff in that discography that I’ll keep coming back to, is what I’m saying, with all that.
Discovering TOUCHIN’ ON TRANE for the first time (yes, this late), having blown a bit hot and (more often) cold on Gayle before that, not really seeing that kind of playing as a particularly useful way forward for what has become a kind of repertory music, really, even as it places itself in opposition to that other kind of, more media-friendly, repertory, the Lincoln Centre school…This though, something in there that won’t be denied, as DUO EXCHANGE or SWIFT ARE THE WINDS OF LIFE, which I’ve sometimes been listening to in conjunction with each other, won’t, beautiful records, all of them.
EXUMA and NINA SIMONE calling up Damballah – Exuma with a kind of joyful, almost sparkling righteous prophetic joy, big tympani bang and ragged chorus, shaking and spilling percussion all round him; Simone with a sitar and a new piano figure and a sorrow song gravity the right side of Diamanda Galas’ goth-jazz take, which came right out of that. Feel the chill: “You slavers will know what it’s like to be a slave/ A slave to your mind and a slave to your race / You won’t go to heaven, you won’t go to hell/ You’ll remain in your graves with the stench and the smell.” (All this going alongside my reading on voodoo at the start of this year, Damballah’s association with serpents (check the hissing on the Exuuma version), invoked as destroyer, redeemer, revolutionary, I guess, that tone of militant destructive and necessary rage catching something of the mood as the Occupy movements and the resistance has to set itself in for the long haul, past the media-bandwagon ‘isn’t rebellion cool’ stage, soon to drop off to what is hard and necessary and still there underneath it all. (More Damballah songs gathered here: http://cleanlivingindifficultcircumstances.blogspot.com/2011/03/saint-patrick-dambala.html )
AND, again Simone-related, the incendiary and brilliant EMERGENCY WARD, 1972, recorded at Fort Dix in front of an audience of black US-army personnel (as record opens, they’re chanting “We want Nina!…We want Nina!”) during the Vietnam war – so Simone does an 18-minute version (even longer live, juding by the fade-out here) of Geroge Harrison’s MY SWEET LORD, but not as some hippie pseudo-religious togetherness thang (“Om Christ, Om Christ”, etc), instead, as some amazing endless gospel rhythmic juggernaut (“You know the Holy Roller Church? Where it all started? We’ve OUTGROWN it now!”) complete with poly-rhythms by a child singer like voice hiccups, gnats at the edge of the audio picture, complete with improvised interludes in which she discourses with weary sorrow, then, as the clincher, interpolating a poem by the Original Last Poets (they of the film ‘RIGHT ON’, which you should track down and watch), the utterly daring quasi-blasphemy of the final moments: Simone intoning “today, Lord, you are a…killerrrrrrr”, the chorus triumphantly agreeing with an emphatic “AMEN” – then the whole groove starting off again…”I really wanna see you”, tambourines and piano and choir. If that’s not signifying, on Harrison’s anodyne anthem, I don’t know what is.
THE IMPRESSIONS, keeping on pushing, via David Henderson’s poem on the 1964 Harlem Riots // JACQUES BREL, rolling his rs and singing a lament for all yr sons with an ONDES MARTENOT behind him // JARMAN, DYANI and MOYE in concert in Italy just before the recording of BLACK PALADINS, Jarman burning on baritone, a 45-minute improvisation with dogged hard purposiveness and a beautiful ‘humility in the light of the creator’ // KIM FOWLEY doing his best to be the ANIMAL GOD OF THE STREETS, the boring and shambolic yet appropriate and weirdly convincing improvised vocalisations of IS AMERICA DEAD?, Fowley sounding as clueless as that title sounds, tetering on the brink of nihilism, politically a mess, some kind of post-hippie hangover, has to be heard to be believed // MARTIAL SOLAL’s soundtrack to A BOUT DE SOUFFLE, still actually an unacknowledged reason for that film’s movement-embodying ‘cool’ (witness the clip in Bertolucci’s ‘The Dreamers’ where Solal’s strings soar just the right side of easy-listening as Jean Seberg hawks the New York Herald Tribune down the centre of the road) // MARY LOU WILLIAMS with congas and electric bass, digging on and in for solid and meaty groove on ZONING (and that very other experience, the duet with Cecil Taylor, EMBRACE as confrontation, contradiction as what life is unavoidably made up of, Maoist jazz?) // MIKE LADD sampling Ornette Coleman (I think) and spitting out outer-space-black-revolutionary talk on Welcome to the Afterfuture’s RED EYE TO JUPITER (“starship nigga…outerspace MOUTHERFUCKA”) // the RIVBEA ORCHESTRA, a 3CD-set out on Mosaic Records just before Sam Rivers’ death, boiling dissonance funk, as on Rivers’ 70s with-guitar record SIZZLE // ODEAN POPE with TIMPANI, and with MARSHALL ALLEN // WILLIAM LAWES’ sweet chill melancholy (‘For Ye Viols’), forget all that royalist background if you can, it is artistocrats’ music, yes, but there’s also that melancholic sense you can just as well trace in the resistance rituals of folk music – this stuff’s all mingled up and spun round, at least in our listening now, the counter-factual tradition we can construct, if we want to or need it // CORCOVADO (Milhaud’s version, not Jobim’s, lilting in a different way, from SAUDADES DO BRASIL) // the WAYNE SHORTER QUARTET’s Latest London Concert, broadcast on bbc radio, essentialy not much different from what I’ve heard that group do twice in the past few years (‘over shadow hill way’ and all of that) but still absolutely fine and involving and moving, and the version of ‘Plaza Real’ is ten millions times more fine than Weather Report’s…And a damn good tune…And Danilo Perez delivering a gorgeous piano solo and luaghing with pleasure behind Shorter’s soprano all the way thru, infection and enthusiasm and love and weirdness all there, we’re better for it// MIGUEL ATWOOD-FERGUSON’s orchestral arrangements of J-Dilla tracks and samples on SUITE FOR MA DUKES, hip-hop turned into a kinda post-minimalist film-score-style ‘cultural monument’ in a way I should find problematic, but which maybe even improves on an original like Slum Village’s ‘Fall in Love’. Bits similar in vibe to that disc the London Sinfonietta did of Aphex Twin and Squarepusher tunes a few years back, and some really nice orchestral colouring, particularly on the snakily (or snarkily?) driving ‘Take Notice’, and the arrangement of Erik Satie’s ‘Le Yachting.’ Hell, I played this over and over, with pleasure, for several weeks at least…// LUCIFER OVER LANCASHIRE, The Fall on German TV in the late 80s, Mark E. Smith wanting the whole ballet company to turn up, instead, just one dancer, the weirdness of that juxtaposition, the moves really a fine fusion of that music’s ragged rigid factory pagan rhythmix and some other kind of distorted curving ‘elegance’ // THE COUP, Dig(ging) it – in this year of Oakland revisited – “rhetoric flowing from the tip from my mao-tse-tongue”; “(Won’t get no callouses) cause I’m spittin dialectical analysis”// MILFORD GRAVES, live in Holland in the 70s, the moment when Joe Rigby or Hugh Glover tries to play the organ and madly runs hands all over it but no sound comes out, the simultaneous solidity and limpidity of those saxophone solos constructed almost entirely out of overblowing and harmonics, and Graves, above all, drumming with energy and joy and screaming falsetto “Boom-BOOM/Boom-BOOM” so you can’t help but break out yrself grinning along //
BILL DIXON, ‘Envoi’, calm as memory/anticipation/resignation in face of catastrophe //
JOHN CAGE’s ‘Emtpy Words’ (Part III), delivered live in Italy to a hostile crowd who whistle, jeer and chant football songs both during the lengthy ‘silences’ and Cage’s unruffled, steady babble – too slow, too steady to be called babble, those fragments evacuated from Emerson’s diaries, chance remaining fragments of language turned into speech music. It would be easy to hear this as a battle between artistic delicacy and an unsophisticated crowd baying for entertainment, but I think the dynamics of the encounter are actually a little more complex. If one’s aesthetic is to be based on openness to sound not controlled by the performer, to the ‘music’ of the entire space and social situation, then to delimit and place ‘allowed’ environmental sounds in a hierarchy is, to say the least, problematic. And I think Cage himself actually relishes the encounter, turning it to his advantage – not that he willed it in advance, but that he takes it as it comes, not with fatalism but with relish – at one point leaning into the microphone and sounding out a great rolled r as a kind of deliberate dare to the audience, not mocking them but playing along with them, the cheers aroused only half-hostile. To what extent does this event challenge Cage’s aesthetic? I’m assuming that the audience are left-, rather than right-wing, given that this is Milan; and I’m assuming that they’re frustrated at his presentation as the authoritative ‘great composer’ – and more than this, by the fact that, as Great Composer, all he’s doing is sitting on stage and reading out some nonsense texts. So if there is, somewhere in Cage’s aesthetic, a willingness or even an active willing for anybody to do this, anybody to listen and thus to perform 4’33”, anyone to submit a text to chance operations and read it out, there’s also some sort of divide created by his position as an established (if not establishment) figure, wealthy and free to travel and have those odd decisions he makes be called art (a privilege not afforded most of those members of the audience – though of course this does injustice to the years of poverty that Cage went through before the money started to pour in (not that we should submit Cage’s biographical trajectory to the bullshit of an all-American boot-strap pulling success story)). I guess we could compare this event to that documented in Klaus Kinski’s ‘Jesus Christ Erloser’, where he actively seeks that confrontation with the audience, in a kind of self-destructive martyrdom complex – well, not even martyrdom, just a relishing of his status as lone prophet crying out on the wilderness-stage, a psychotic John the Baptist reverse-prophesying after Jesus’ arrival (if that makes any sense). That confrontation might be seen, perversely, as an instance of performer inviting audience into the performance (even if, when some poor sap does come up on stage, it’s only for Kinski to verbally flog him immediately back off it, grabbing the microphone out of his hand and invoking righteous, Messianic wrath) – it’s almost a parody of that potential democracy, or anarchy, to which Cage strives at all times to be open; a parody, moreover, that is perhaps more open than Cage’s continued lone reading up on the stage (compare that section at the end of the ‘Erloser’ film where most of the audience have left, those brave souls who’ve remained sitting in a circle round an exhausted Kinski, who’s descended the stage (like Christ dropping down from heaven) to speak to them, almost in a whisper, from the floor. It’s as if the whole show has been a kind of purification ritual, for both Kinski and the audience, in which those who can survive form the true and temporary community of risk that art strives to create, to dissipate immediately on the cessation of the evening’s ‘entertainment’, but to be carried still, as some spark for potential activiation, somewhere within all those who so participated.) Well, then, if nothing else, the Cage recording (and the Kinski film as well) is a prime example of how to deal with a hostile audience, and a fascinating placing of Cage’s aesthetic outside the rather pristine spaces in which it can tend, now canonised, to exist. But, of course, let’s not forget that roughness, that playfulness, that experimentalism of the 60s and 70s – the period of text pieces, of electronic utopian musicircuses, of Buckminster Fuller and Norman O. Brown, of The Bell Telephone Company and of messages from outer space and from across the continent – work with a value to it we would do well to re-examine, rescuing Cage from seeming from his position as pristine (prissy?) zen master, tetering on edges, taking it our there.
And with that digression I guess this issue has come to a close. See y’all in, oh, a year’s time, I expect…