Charles Mingus Quintet – ‘Flowers for a Lady’
There are a number of fine Mingus videos available on the internet, including a complete 1964 concert from Oslo featuring Byard, Dolphy, Curson, and Jordan: a band which was arguably one of his finest (witness the recently re-issued Cornell Concert, or the superb ‘Mingus at Antibes’, with Bud Powell’s lovely guest appearance on ‘I’ll Remember April’, of which a very grainy video also exists). With this video, though, we’ve moved forward 10 years, towards a more critically under-appreciated period in the great man’s career. Recorded at the Umbria Jazz Festival in 1974, ‘Flowers for a Lady’ really shows the strengths of Mingus’ 70s groups. Saxophonists Adams and Bluiett are at their barnstorming best, and the whole band deliver a series of solos not so much tempestuous as beside themselves with joy: the expected passionate engagement from George Adams (complete with a brief ‘Surrey With a Fringe on Top’ reference), a be-hatted Don Pullen dancing in the doorway between the inside and the outside with his usual ease, and, to top it all, Hamiet Bluiett (also be-hatted) blowing well up into soprano range and making the hefty baritone scream for all its worth. Gerry Mulligan this ain’t. A nonchalant looking Mingus keeps it all swinging alongside the ever-reliable Dannie Richmond. The piece has an irrepressible energy and verve about it, a magnanimity of spirit that was always there in Mingus’ music. Did I mention that it was also tremendously exciting? Go click, go watch.
Kaoru Abe Solo
Live at Fukushima, 24/9/1977 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bCqlI75xdfo
Jûsan-nin renzoku bôkôma (excerpt) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6gyIHldJyg
There are a couple of videos here. The first one is a live recording: Abe in what looks like a pretty confined space, standing in front of an upright piano with the front taken off (at one point he steps backwards and inadvertently touches one of the keys). Moving on a lyrical, subdued basis here – tender and quiet melodies, trills, swells, repetitions occasionally rising to altissimo squeals. Perhaps the whole concert was recorded: the video ends by cutting to a group of people who are listening to the clip in a TV studio.
Upon digging, it turns out that the second clip is actually from a horror film called directed by maverick Japanese film-maker Koji Wakamatsu. Wakamtsu specialized in ‘the pink film’ (pinku eiga), a 60s/70s ‘genre’ which married softcore porn with radical politics. A particularly notable example, ‘Ecstasy of the Angels’ (1972), features a performance by the Yosuke Yamashita trio: footage of the musicians playing is intercut with a rape/ orgasm and anarchist bombing activities. Wakamtsu also directed ‘Endless Waltz’ (1995), a film about Abe’s life described by Jonathan Crow as a “Sid and Nancy for the free jazz generation.”
The Abe clip is from ‘Jûsan-nin renzoku bôkôma’ (1978), a title which translates as ‘The Violent Man Who Attacked 13 People’: a dispassionate, clinical description reflected in the film’s English title, ‘Serial Rapist.’ I haven’t seen the film, and I’m not sure I could stomach it, from the reviews I’ve read – in any case, it’s pretty obscure and doesn’t seem to be readily available. Here’s a sample: “this has to be one of the most nihilistic violent pink movies I have ever seen. Its tone is utterly bleak and hopeless and the scenes of murder, rape and sexual violence are uncompromising. The film chronicles few days of life of cycling serial rapist and murderer. The howling saxophone of Kaoru Abe replaced the voice of the young killer-rapist bringing an inventive contrast to the dumbness of the young man. The loneliness of his lost character is simply overwhelming. The film is cold, bitter and full of despair.”
It’s hard to view the clip in the same way when one realizes that the titular character is the man with the motorbike who wanders into shot about thirty seconds after Abe’s started playing. Still, it’s wonderful to see Abe playing out in the open – so often (as you can see from the other video) this music is confined to dingy little clubs and back-rooms, when one feels that in some ways the open air is the perfect space for its emotional range – space to breathe. I find it an incredibly evocative clip – not so much for evoking a particular time or place, for re-creating the moment of filming, but for all those imaginative spaces which it brings into existence with such ease.
Barkingside at Mopomoso
Filmed by the estimable Helen Petts at the Vortex Jazz Club: the quartet, Barkingside (Alex Ward, Alex Hawkins, Dom Lash, Paul May), the occasion, a Mopomoso Evening in July 2008. This clip is so absolutely beautiful, if beauty has that absolute sense which this music affirms and denies then it can go on being itself and only then actually breathe. It is real, and true in the moment(s); fairy-dust is liberally applied and runs off because it is really air, flowing through and out of Alex Ward’s clarinet note-throw in motor frenzy with pianistic key-chase. Fairy-dust could scare, easily: and the real magic is when the group’s muscle falls away to Paul May’s percussion, solo, as he concentrates on one sound, not even ‘drumming’, stick-scratching against cymbal-holder’s rough handle, a scrape-growl howl of purest quiet loneliness and concord; then introduces his second hand, as air-hockey mallet surface-skimming, rubbing on snare and hitting the sides as the accident that becomes texture’s crucial layer; clarinet mouth-moan and so unexpected in little sounds’ forest, piano assumes the air of lush romanticism, chords to break hearts, until the first phrase digests and you realize it’s acerbic lyric, it’s love-song as grave as the most delicate morbid imaginings, a death-ode, desolate as Tristano’s Requiem. May’s solo is about control as leads to most abandon; is one sound, or two, so obsessive rather than every-inch flailed in search of the racket…Self-limitation is self-license if you issue out the permits, to yourself. Restraint and discipline not as the patriarchy hands down but yourself from study and feel and mind. Maybe that’s what Sun Ra could have meant.
Peter Brötzmann, Ken Vandermark & Paal Nilssen-Love – Tokyo, 27/09/2008
Non-fury, or melancholy, as it manifests itself in Brötzmann’s current work, is so often described as ‘lyricism’ in journalists’ reviews, my own included: mea culpa. That is not right because it implies a clinging to words (the child grasps the mother tongue) which I would have thought was precisely not what is being done in musical free improvisation. But it is also not right because too often it is seized on as Brötzmann ‘varying’ himself – a ‘welcome touch of lyricism’ to off-set all that sound and fury, signifying nothing. And then, perhaps, his music as variegated plant, his persona as chimera, bearded and gruff but souled. If you screech too long people forget what you screech about and you are emptied. I don’t believe this. The dying animal does not decide that its first howl was enough to express its pain and then fall silent. Yet the following is a seductive concept: ‘lyricism’ as the re-affirmation of meaning after the force of expression has emptied itself out, has carried itself on for too long. Probably one thinks of this impulse, this ‘lyricism’, not as the salve to the wound that led to the screech, but as its more muted whimper, its exhausted expression reconfiguring into a new authority. Perhaps there is something in that – but that whimpering does not necessarily equal quality, or if it does that is because it has captured something beyond our words’ delimiting. For, yes, we do delimit: whatever our intentions, we are marking out our territory in something (a music) that belongs to us (though not as possession in the sense of paid ownership). Because it is our possession in that way – a possession free and shared, genuinely Common in a most uncommon manner – our lack of care towards it is so much injustice. Because of us, the openings are closed-off; at least, we close them off to ourselves, but you can squeeze through without a ‘key’ (that would just break in the lock) if you push your listening back on itself.
‘Lyricism’ is not the right term because the music exists in a too-delicate balance that won’t, or can’t, shudder that readily to song – to song, that is, understood as stricture (whether that understanding is intended or not). This melody posed on breath, treading the wavering line, eggs itself on into life at that moment where life is most aware of its fragility. Perhaps not even the musicians, or not all of the musicians, are aware of that, it is more a function of the music that in flowing out of them will not freeze on the air they make sing, that allows them to sing, that place of shaping, a sincerity of environment: environs meant as much as Brötzmann or Vandermark mean, or don’t mean what they don’t quite sing or say: instrumental, the point pivots the most terrible notions round its axis, Brötzmann’s machine gun firing no rounds, laid aside or converted to a stung remembrance of its non-melody, its chatter and bellow. Vandermark’s saxophone is the most eerie accompanying, tracing itself out of, or as, a dampened bassoon – and the fact that he’s not seen in the video makes him even more the ghost-presence of Brötzmann’s clarinet.
For yes, there are ghosts here, and even if they are not Ayler’s ditty, they are certainly the ever-present howl of absence that was at the centre of his terrified energies, life at its strongest at moment of most weakness, the best Brötzmann I see at his most vulnerable, for at that time I see all of him become all of us, and none of these things.
Nilsson-Love: the drums’ martial residue; their ‘new music’ patina; the flutter of the heart, the hearth that calls from home in a music that makes its own un-returnable home. A temporary resting place, even a place of dwelling for as long as it is being built. Then the wolf’s applause will huff and will puff and will blow down the breath still hanging, disperse the notes still ringing through charged air. Electricity turns negative, now the performance can be reproduced in photographs but that negative itself will always be inadequate in its fixed glimpse. Thus too the video, the moving images. But perhaps there is a haunting there not even present at the live performance; one set of ghosts replaced for another. This can re-create itself every time we say goodbye to our tired notions in this music of utmost exhausted insistence, this priceless value.