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About ep1str0phy

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  1. Whoa, hold on a sec - maybe this is what you're getting at, but Sanborn and Kenny G should not be mentioned in the same breath. Each is an ethos, but whereas Sanborn is a reduction (or maybe simplification) of principles with some very legitimate provenance, Kenny G is almost sui generis with regard to the methodology and consistency of his blandness. That Kenny G lacks artistic validity says more about the frameworks with which we are geared to curate genre than it does Kenny G himself. Of course Kenny G sucks. He sucks in the same way that a Huffy Green Machine is not a suitable substitute for a high end Ducati. IMO the "real problem" is that [the universal we] tend to conflate visual markers with cultural identities. Kenny G, John Coltrane, and Braxton all play soprano, so of course they play the same kind of music. Keep in mind that I'm not arguing that Kenny G's music has any sort of inherent value - more that the controversy over his popularity overlays a more interesting discussion about how expressive art suffers in the face of commodification.
  2. John Coltrane - Love Supreme: Live in Seattle

    Very early impressions - and keep in mind that all of this is visceral rather than considered, because my opinion could easily shift upon re-listen: This is a remarkable document that I feel tremendously privileged to have heard. I also think that mileage may vary. This is closer to The Olatunji Concert or Offering than it is the Antibes A Love Supreme. By this I mean that the imperfection of the recording is just distracting enough to color my view of the music, and insofar as Coltrane's voice is the focal point of the suite, having him recessed so far into the background sort of untethers things. I'd almost trade the sound on this for Olatunji, because although Olatunji is extremely harsh, the energy of the performance communicates the intentions of the performers very clearly. There's that aphoristic phrase (that I cannot source - maybe someone else will remember) about Albert Ayler's recordings being mere "rumors" of the real thing, and that's kind of how I feel about these archival Coltrane recordings. The recording is itself something that is meant to be consumed, because the actual live energy is lost to time. In the case of something like Olatunji, you can (a) choose to listen selectively, mentally blocking out all the clipping and filling in the blanks when it comes to inaudible piano, bass, etc., or (b) you can listen to Olatunji for what it is - i.e., a monolith of poorly recorded free jazz that that is played with virtuosity and passion. It's up to you. Most of the time, I choose the latter. That being said, the rhythm section on the Seattle A Love Supreme is recorded in stunning clarity, the restoration and mastering are exceptionally clean, and there are episodes of music here that are truly worthy of the hagiographic hype. Pharoah's solo on "Acknowledgement" is astonishing, in main because there isn't much other opportunity to hear the Pharoah of this vintage square his extended technique-focused playing into a groove this insistent. Carlos Ward's solo on "Resolution" is also a standout, superficially reminiscent of Dolphy on the Vanguard recordings - but much more abstract. There is also a lot of period appropriate filigree - including miscellaneous percussion on "Acknowledgement" and a battery of bass duos - that feels well-integrated. Under certain circumstances, I'd think that this was the best "new" Coltrane release in decades. At this moment - and I'm ashamed to even be typing this - I could use slightly less Elvin Jones and a lot more Trane. A Love Supreme may have been a collective effort, but that effort hinged on a kind of balance between pieces that feels - in this moment - absent on this recording. As it is, this is "just" a really, really good live Coltrane record - and a worthy appendix to Live In Seattle.
  3. Milford Graves and Jason Moran: Live at Big Ears

    I grabbed this album just a couple of days ago and have not been able to stop listening to it. It is exceptional. Maybe the biggest compliment I can give to this album is that it sounds nothing like Nommo and everything like both a Jason Moran record and a Milford Graves record - which is to say that it feels spontaneous, experimental, and intimate - basically everything you could ask for from a freely improvised duo. But - perhaps my favorite aspect of the album is that it is constructed and sequenced like a complete work (rather than a "mere" document). The processed tracks and Mind-Body pieces feel like they're part of a whole, and they tap into an aspect of the Professor's work that often goes ignored by musical appraisals of his oeuvre - i.e., the intersection between biology and technology as a platform for sound (see below). To put it another way, this record underlines something wildly deep about MG's approach - which is to say that insofar as all musical instruments are a kind of technology, bridging the gap between the inorganic/mechanical and the organic is a necessary part of producing art. The Professor did a lifetime of work in order to get us closer to ourselves. Legit album of the year for me (so far).
  4. Ted Curson/Don Cherry

    I'll freely admit that I have my issues with victim mentality in free music, and I've had to excuse myself from certain situations where this psychology is the dominant one. More often than not, communities that freely trade in this language are undone by circular, feudalistic infighting. On the other hand - and this is a bit of a truism - but hustle is hard. "As Serious As Your Life" is not a joke. The danger/trouble with fighting back is that you're going to go through a world of hurt. Lots of people are cut out for this, but twice as many people are not - and I don't begrudge that, personally.
  5. Ted Curson/Don Cherry

    I want to preface by saying that Sonny is my favorite guitarist (and so my #1 guy on my chosen instrument, which is a whole thing). All this is to say that I don't want to talk out of my ass or out of turn here - bone of this is a knock on his body of work so much as a study on, as we're discussing, life practices in out music. Points taken, though I do want to qualify that a lot of Sonny's solo forays into commercial music were, at least early on, disastrous. The Paradise record + the Savages band culminated in years of virtual inactivity. I agree that the promise of the Laswell collaboration - and Sonny's receptivity to the prospect of drastically reworking his technique - basically concretized his place in history. At the same time, this feels like an instance in which the destination validates the journey, and the story feels a little more complex- I have a sense (loosely corroborated in any number of interviews) that Sonny couldn't really play guitar in the early 60s. He was a fantastic rhythm player and a daring conceptualist with a very limited understanding of linear construction. From a guitar player's perspective, I sense that Sonny's later success, paired with the advent of readily accessible electronics, more or less forced him to undertake an accelerated, if wildly delayed, regimen of self-improvement. Had he had the time, perspective, initiative or whatever to recognize his limitations sooner, who knows what we could have gotten. It's an academic line of inquiry, but - and this was kind of my point above - we've never had to ask this kind of question about, say, Ornette, Cecil, or Milford. Those guys were self-starters and deserve their flowers. To put it a different way, I've had personal and musical experiences with plenty of guys who never got to that second gear that Sonny found, and I also feel that musicians of this ilk are not self-sabotaging so much as a little unlucky.
  6. Ted Curson/Don Cherry

    Not to get too far off topic, but I've shifted on this issue a bit. There is indeed such a thing as aggressive (and possibly arrogant) confrontationalism, the likes of which celebrate the alienation of audiences and the abject obscurity of the artist. At the same time, I feel (anecdotally) that 90% of musicians who operate in fringe or avant musics aren't trying to be so out that they, as you suggest, drift into oblivion. Consider someone like Sonny Sharrock, whose influence is absolutely everywhere - had it not been for Herbie Mann and Bill Laswell, certain epochal stages in the development of improvised guitar may have been lost to obscurity. Consider, too, that Sonny had (and I'm paraphrasing his words here) tried to "sell out" on numerous occasions - only to fail at every turn. Does this make Sonny one of the players with "personal discipline and clarity of vision," or is he just one of the lucky ones? Does it matter? In a historical context, that's all the more opportunity to celebrate artists who have managed, by force of will or ingenuity, to survive without compromising their art. Guys like Milford and Cecil toiled in obscurity for long stretches of their careers, going essentially undocumented for years at a time. It's virtually impossible for this to happen (unless by intention) in 2021. Milford kept his head above water because he was - and I use these words very selectively - a fucking genius. In short, I wouldn't knock any number of guys who, say, appeared on an ESP Disk session and proceeded to almost completely wipe out - they may not have been the "special" ones, but they're also victims of circumstance to a degree.
  7. Ted Curson/Don Cherry

    There are a couple of (relevant) points to be made: (1) I think it's reasonable to argue that the social divisions between "avant-garde" and "mainstream" have been a little overexaggerated by history, and (2) the well-traded narrative that free jazz was about dissolving conventions is only a partial truth. Time and historical perspective (it's been, what, 50-60 years?!) have clarified that free jazz as a gestalt was more about expanding the repertoire of possibilities in the music rather than erasing the technical innovations of the music(s) that preceded it. The folks who survived the music's heyday each had coherent, often evolving artistic concepts - e.g., Ornette, Cecil, Sun Ra, etc. It also bears notice that a lot of people commonly associated with the genre have balked at the "free music" as praxis thing (Sun Ra: "there is no freedom in the universe"). Moreover, many of the folks who did and do strongly associate with the "free music" appellation often had political (as opposed to strictly aesthetic) reasons for doing so - which is a big reason why we're forced to compartmentalize the music of the South Africans, Europeans, etc. into a different genre category. With regard to my point above, who in 1959 would have guessed that Don Cherry was about a million things besides playing trumpet? I think there were a lot of surface attempts at the turn of the 1960s to bottle the sound of early free jazz and reapply it in more palatable, marketable, or controllable ways. (I don't mean to rag on the guy, but I keep thinking about Jimmy Woods in this regard.) This was, of course, a failing venture, as - again - the chief innovation of free jazz was in expanding the range of expressive possibilities in the music. Cats like Mingus understood this basic idea and found ways to use the innovations of Ornette, Cherry, etc. to grow their own work.
  8. Norm MacDonald, RIP

    Pretty gutting news - his work was a big part of my youth. Not to take this conversation in that direction, but more recognition of a feat of consequence: anecdotally, he seemed like one of only a handful of comedians who could engender positive feelings from both sides of the political spectrum. The fact that he was able to do what he did - so hilariously, and artfully enough to build a kind of consensus - is remarkable.
  9. Whither Allen Lowe?

    Hang in there, man. A lot of people are rooting for you!
  10. Ted Curson/Don Cherry

    I think that Mingus's concerns were founded in reality, as it is arguably (though I might say unequivocally) true that the advent of free jazz fostered visibility for scores of musicians who might otherwise have been considered technically "incomplete." I also don't think that Mingus's attitude was particularly novel. A friend of mine who very reputably ran in post-bop/free jazz circles once intimated, "Man, everyone knew those cats couldn't play." Another friend of mine - an army veteran who intersected with this time in history (saw Ornette at the Five Spot, Coltrane at the Half Note, etc. etc.) one related this anecdote: Oliver Nelson was sitting the audience for a New York Art Quartet gig. After the gig, Nelson was approached by Lewis Worrell, who asked Nelson for his thoughts. Nelson replied, "You have to play inside before you can play outside." I think that what many among the jazz mainstream or left-mainstream (understandably) missed - and what others, like Mingus, may have implicitly recognized - is that there was something in Cherry's playing that was not in Curson's playing. Curson may have been the superior technician, but Cherry had a clarity of concept that was undeniable. Speaking subjectively, I sense that the "death" of free jazz as an art that required both consideration and confrontation had less to do with the sound of the music and more to do with its cost. Willful experimentation levied serious economic consequences on the music's practitioners - especially after the energy of the 60s dissipated - and those who couldn't hang just moved on to other things. A lot of the movement's sustainable innovations were integrated into other things. What jazz musicians in the 60s and 70s could not have anticipated was the latter-day resurgence in interest in free jazz as a kind of "art music" apart from the mainstream. While outright experimentation remains an economically challenging career pathway, trading in the sounds of the 1960s is actually kind of lucrative now (from a certain point of view). In one of my last exchanges with Milford Graves, we spoke a bit about the explosive costs of some SRP and IPS records. I think he was more than a little bemused, as he related (and I'm only paraphrasing here) that none of that music made very much money back in the day. I'd imagine (speaking only from my read of the situation) that though Professor Graves held a deep conviction in his own work, he was maybe unable to see even his late career success as anything other than part of a career-long battle for due recognition.
  11. Human Arts Ensemble

    I can't believe I'm saying this, but the Wikipedia entry explains Marshall's involvement in a pretty succinct fashion: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Arts_Ensemble One record I'm rather fond of (but have not heard much mention of) is P'nk J'zz. It's credited to "Charles "Bobo" Shaw & The Human Arts Ensemble Featuring Joseph Bowie," but it slots just as neatly into the continuum of Julius Hemphill's music. Hemphill and the redoubtable Abdul Wadud both feature. The energy and programming on the record are both really solid, and the unconventional instrumentation (w/cello, trombone, and electric bass) appeals. Actually rather tangential to the Human Rights Ensemble, but I can't say enough good things about Billy Bang's Sweet Space. The connective tissue here is the presence of Luther Thomas, who has a solo on "A Pebble Is A Small Rock" that bridges energy music histrionics and pseudo-no wave nihilism in a really spectacular way. I haven't spent as much time with Thomas's discography as I'd like to have, but his playing on the entire LP hits this really interesting sweet spot for me. (The record also has some of the best Steve McCall outside of Air, IMO.)
  12. John Coltrane - Love Supreme: Live in Seattle

    It's this character in the music that I find appealing - not the machoism, of course, but the imperfection in the core concept. Insofar as this period of Trane is experimental in a practical sense, it may even be fair to argue that Alice, Frank Wright, Horace Tapscott, and any number of other artists took the basic formulae of this era and perfected it into something more fully realized. What makes this era so special is that it both presages something new and unravels something that was already perfect (i.e., the classic quartet). Like, that quartet formula was ironclad, and it's worth considering that that band was performing regularly for, what, five or so years? I'd imagine that that quartet would arrive at junctures where it felt devoid of risk, and maybe it was the imperative of the leader to push it in directions that accorded with his own desire to learn, self-actualize, etc. There are obvious indications that Trane was cognizant of the fact that the quartet music was so correct that it was probably foolhardy to abandon it wholesale (e.g., "I figured I could do two things: I could have a band that played like the way we used to play, and a band that was going in the direction that this, the one I have now is going in" - or the Stellar Regions session, where, according to Charles Davis, Coltrane was actively watching the clock and attempting to keep the duration of the performances to a minimum). I think this is why 65/66 is so special. There's this unanswered question of where Coltrane was headed should he have lived past 40, and one very fair assumption is that the mechanics of the quartet music would have reasserted themselves in some way. This speculation is both academic and kind of pointless, but it does drive home the point that 65/66 probably was the periphery - i.e., that's probably as messy and chaotic and daring as it was going to get. Read in that fashion, that music feels like more of a destination rather than a transition. (Accordingly, I recall Jim saying something about Interstellar Space in particular to this very effect, and that's always resonated with me.)
  13. John Coltrane - Love Supreme: Live in Seattle

    I feel like you could focus on the quartet material and arrive at something pretty satisfactory. The apparent difficulty is in attempting to account for the album length pieces and expanded ensembles. I sense that this is implicit in your words above, but what is so magical to me about '65 is that it sits at this perfect nexus of refinement and experimentalism. It's just so messy - and I'm not talking about the ostensible avant-garde trappings. Work of comparable significance by, for example, Cecil Taylor feels extremely finished. I'm not even convinced that a lot of '65 Trane is that good - it's just that there are so few moments along the greater timeline of American music, with its tendency to celebrate the exceptional, when someone who is so clearly the "best" at a certain kind of art makes so many decisions that are at turns wildly brave and at others overambitious and perplexing. Really - like, is Ascension "good" music? (1) I'm not sure that I care, and (2) I don't think that it matters. It is what it is.
  14. John Coltrane - Love Supreme: Live in Seattle

    I saw a ton of posts about this on social media and thought it was a joke. This feels like a huge deal - so much so that this particular release does not seem to necessitate an outsize promotional campaign after the fashion of Both Directions at Once. I spent a lot of time researching A Love Supreme after constructing what felt like a timely reworking a few years back, and the proportion of scholarship on this work relative to the amount of available documentation is pretty staggering. What I find particularly fascinating is that the aura of perfection surrounding ALS is probably colored by the fact that it issues from a very particular juncture in Coltrane's discography - like a span of 7 months from the studio album to Antibes. This recording adds another couple of months to the narrative of a composition that feels locked inside of a very particular artistic narrative, which (in terms of '65 Trane) feels equivalent to kicking a spaceship into hyperspace. On a personal level, I just have very fond memories of heading out on tour loaded up with all of the available '65 Trane and letting it spin - going on these 12 hour car rides listening to like one year in this dude's life. The fact that there is more - of substance - to that body of work is remarkable, and it reminds me that even written stories are often incomplete.
  15. Thanks for the support, all! It's taken forever to put this thing together, but it's going to be a joy. (I'm also happy to report that we have a studio album in the can...) To those who have ordered: ticketing confirmations are being sent out on a rolling basis. Thanks for your patience. Finally - I thought it might bring some amusement, so here's a quick sizzle reel I threw together: