ep1str0phy

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  1. Difficult week

    Hey, Chuck--really, my condolences. There's little to say that embellishes that other than that I thought of you (and Roscoe, too, in particular) amidst all this news. I'm really thankful for the tremendous work that is there--things we'll be unraveling and enjoying for as long as we're here.
  2. Joseph Jarman - RIP

    Heard the news last night. Listening to Sunbound and Together Alone to remember and commemorate. I've been forced to consider mortality a lot these past few years, and a big lesson for me throughout all of this is that it's often hard to detect the size of one's fingerprint until or unless you look at the earth moved around it. I never had a chance to meet him, but JJ worked and/or befriended a large number of people who are very important to me--a fact that I had not considered until just today. His music has changed my life in many ways--not just the immediate stuff of transforming my listening habits or the broader shifts in understanding that the Art Ensemble induced in my cultural perspective, but also in the way of being a part of a world that has felt more real to me even as it has grown (physically) smaller.
  3. Yes--that's absolutely it. And to go one step further, I'm not certain that these are questions that are keeping working musicians awake at night so much as they are considerations that have too long consumed jazz as a social process. "Jazz is dead" diagnoses/post-mortems/prognostications are their own industry--that is a narrative made of convenience, and one that feeds few mouths and silences multitudes of others. The thing you say about virtuosity is true, and if there's a fundamental problem to be solved in this post-whatever/whomever milieu, it's that marrying a panoptic consciousness of, as you say, a "clear macro-understanding" to lucid technical accomplishment is very, very hard. I think back to some conversations on here years ago about Coltrane vs. Ayler--i.e., two individuals arriving at a similar aesthetic conclusion having confronted two very different maths. The unspoken but (I think) deeply felt reality of Coltrane is that he was able to do the paradoxical work of mathing his way into spiritual consciousness, and he had the tools and drive to solve another step beyond--he just ran out of time and we're left with the aspirational challenge of imagining what the next thing would be. The Ayler route, by contrast, is an easier solve--it's just more elusive--one of those "you have it or you don't"-type things, and the Coltranes of the world can't go that direction because their minds and bodies just don't work that way. This is all one long-winded way of saying that I think the challenge of solving is itself more interesting to me than arriving at the big, heroic solution that may very well never come. (Or said solution may, like Ayler, come by semi-accident/artistic exigency--who knows. You can program a Max patch that sounds, by accident, like a full Morton Feldman String Quartet or improvise a piano trio that sounds more-or-less like Nancarrow. I've heard some liberal treatments of Cage's Branches that sound suspiciously similar to early Art Ensemble. All this may speak more to my limited knowledge as a listener than any reality--again, who knows.) I read guys like Braxton or Roscoe proceeding from this notion, and a deep inquiry into their respective methods and realities--if you were really able to read into all that music and do the theory homework and research--would yield the impression that yes, a lot of the method involves dead-ends, incomplete reads, and even some fumbling around in the dark. Is this not as or more worthwhile than "saving the music"? This is a big reason why I support this Makaya album--especially in theory. The Teo Macero-ness of editing a live improvisation into something new is, well, not new at all, but the basic premise of rearranging the mechanics of free improvisation post-hoc is a methodology that, I think, too few improvisers are willing to explore for fear of corrupting the process. You know that whole thing about how Barre Phillips originally recorded Journal Violone as something that was to be electronically manipulated after the fact? This is a reversal of that--it's taking physical practice and limiting its parameters because to do would mean confronting inconvenient macro-realities. I mean, Universal Beings isn't itself very different in principle than some of the Blue Series recordings from several years ago, Madlib's more esoteric jazz stuff (Slave Riot being the best example), or even Terry Riley's Music for the Gift. There is a superficiality to Makaya's music that masks, as we say, the underlying math--but the math there is real and in its own way confrontational. This isn't "way ahead" stuff--it's about addressing the world "as it is."
  4. I mean, please don't take my statements to mean that proficiency is in any way a substitute for vision or identity--and that's precisely my point. The root resources for strong statements are if anything more widely available now than they were in jazz's (maybe partly misremembered) heyday. What I'm saying is that something in the intersection between hagiography, ennui, and the myriad economic and philosophical considerations discussed above has elided the fact that jazz has had a crisis of vision and identity since (at least) the 1960s--or, rather, a kind of crisis-state that is permanent and impossible to argue out of. I'm poking at a beehive a bit with this, since I know there are people on this board far better equipped to tackle this topic than I, but the general dint of jazz musical practice post-1970 or so (and as might be affirmed by the discombobulated ethos of 21st century jazz critical theory) feels a lot like unresolved postmodernity--a plurality of voices that the broader community has struggled, time and time again, to shunt into installed hierarchies that no longer have any real relevance to either the players or the listeners. Post-Coltrane, what need have we for virtuosos?--and I'm not talking about great technicians per se, I'm asking why heroic virtuosity is still a standard by which we discuss this music when that archetype came, went, and blew his own iconology apart in a definitive, sadly final way. Remember that Kurt Rosenwinkel debacle where he called out people for (I'm paraphrasing) not practicing or working hard enough? Consider how almost every documentary on or involving Coltrane pauses right before late Coltrane and starts talking about metaphysics without addressing the implications of that music to Trane's own ethos of virtuosity. Like I said: not only are we placing unnecessary burden on our young musicians, but we're also stuck in a Groundhog Day of reliving jazz's great Jesus moment and trying to reclaim the last sure time that everything actually made sense. This is what I mean when I say that a lot of the most meaningful and resonant material being made right now issues from music that fails to resolve its own existential dilemma. None of this is to say "don't practice"--quite the opposite: stock up on Move Free in your 30s and get your 3+ hours in a day, please--but I would argue that transcendent meaning is a more "real" artistic consideration now than whatever it is that jazz is so preoccupied with every few months. Steve, you mention John Edwards--my constant invocation of Louis (who works with John frequently) is related to this--his is an example of the kind of passion, intensity, and risk that has both visceral impact and undeniable purpose. Speaking of Louis--how many here have given a real listen to his duo album with Cecil Taylor (Remembrance)? We embrace passion before practiced ideologies, but I wonder how many players have been able to elicit that kind of performance alongside Cecil after the heady explosion of the 60s. The folks on here who are players will know this. Real improvisation vs. practiced improvisation are very different things. I'm sure Louis would attest that not everything that he plays lands to his satisfaction, but I would argue that everything that he plays on Remembrance, at least, is really and truly improvised. That's enough reason to get me to listen.
  5. Thanks to all for the very reasoned and even-tempered replies to the always incendiary topic of "jazz is dead vs. I could care less." In a way I feel like we've reached a juncture in the music when it's ok to have these conversations in a casual, low-stakes way, though I don't know if that says more about the failing health of genre economics than it does speak to, as I said, a growing meta-consciousness about jazz's lack of macro narrative. In terms of the "perverse desires" thing--yes, I think it's absolutely the case that this music's now-intrinsic existential problems are tied into broader social trends regarding some kind of epigonal, maybe imagined sense of purpose and structure. Without getting explicitly political, we've been confronting these issues in world religion, political structure, and broader art worlds for well over a century at this point. It's only that jazz experienced it's big conservative/retrogressive movement in the 1980s, and now that that's said and done, we're left with the awful truth that nothing has really changed in any definitive sense (jazz education and certain monied institutions notwithstanding). Nothing got "saved"--things just happened: good music, average music, and some of the third kind. In my conversations with veteran musicians, the substantive changes were largely economic--i.e., diminished professional opportunities for certain genres and practices at the onset of the young lions--and many of the parallel transformations in the economic structure of the jazz industry were induced by outside forces, many of them unpredictable. More has been done "to" jazz by the rise of the internet, the collapse of traditional label structures, digital media, and rampant inflation than absolutely anything Wynton Marsalis or even the broader category of jazz education might be responsible for. To put things in a different, maybe more nebulous way--one of my all-time favorite records is Peter Brotzmann's Opened, But Hardly Touched (with the Harry Miller/Louis Moholo-Moholo rhythm team). I love me some Michael Mantler/No Answer, but in terms of translating the utter feeling of post-everything, "the party's over" nothingness that emerged in the wake of the mid-20th century into an improvised context, that record is it. It engages with a lot of sometimes contradictory jazz dogmas--the vestiges of swing music (via Brotzmann's expressive but lumbering saxophone and Moholo-Moholo's Sid Catlett on psychedelics drum sound), post-Mingus rhythmic mobility and bebop rhythm logics in the bass/drums, hard bop heaviness and rock/soul-inflected backbeats, elements of revolutionary folk motives ala Liberation Music Orchestra, the expected EFI/South African jazz inflections, and so on--in an almost passive way. I mean this as a complement in that that rhythm section is maybe my favorite ever, but that record has absolutely everything and nothing happening all at once. Whenever I'm in the very Western mindset of trying to figure out what happened to position me in the music world of 2018, I listen to that record and remember that some time before 1981, at least three musicians figured out that everything that was going to be said had been said and decided to play something new anyway. In a very real way, this is maybe the best era in the history of jazz to play music. There's a Threadgill interview where he says something similar. I'm not saying that we have most or even more than a few of our great innovators left, and we're not getting regular features in Esquire on our wardrobes or watch ads or anything like that, but you can walk into almost any major city in the world right now and assemble an affordable band that is technically proficient, good to great at sight reading, literate in any number of major genres (jazz or otherwise), and not a bad hang. Not just in New York. The problem I see now is less in the doing or even the making and more in the impetus--the reasoning, the saying. Some of the best music being made right now either declines or refuses to address these issues. I think the most meaningful and resonant material being made in 2018 is at least attempting to confront the existential problems in question--and often failing, nobly, to arrive at some kind of resolution.
  6. Before I go off on this short-form rant, I wanted to say that I'm not directing this to anyone in particular--least of all Allen (whom I have the privilege of knowing in a non-internet way and whose thoughtfulness and profound understanding of the music I've never called into question). I just got a copy of Universal Beings, and I enjoy it quite a bit. I also question why we're again seeing jazz criticism pushing a macro narrative--e.g., "X Isn't Interested in Saving Jazz," "X Gives Jazz A New Groove," "X Pulls Jazz Back from the Brink,"--when there is absolutely none to be found. The basic answer is sort of self-evident--i.e., to sell records--but the "deeper" why has something to do with this music's enduring, paradoxically self-destructive preoccupation with death, survival, messiah figures, and continuity. To put it another way, we live in a post-Coltrane world that has a perverse desire to invent Coltrane over and over and over again. Anyone who is playing music now can tell you that the micro narrative of jazz remains fluid and very vibrant. The 21st century critical and historical theory on this music is a fucking mess. What this does is impose unrealistic expectations on both every young working musician with a story to tell and every seasoned listener who wakes to a Groundhog Day of jazz attempting to relive its past value. Somewhere in the middle of that is the sad truth that we reward both youth and imminent death with little real regard, either economically or philosophically, for the long period in-between. I've often wondered why the tremendous volume of really happening music I hear out in the world never gets discussed on here, and I think it's because the infrastructure that we've built to share experiences--jazz criticism being a big part of that--is in the midst of a kind of protracted existential crisis. We're roughly 50 years removed from the first recordings of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, the SME, ICP, and the Blue Notes, the final recordings of Coltrane, the initial stages of fusion, and the beginnings of the Last Poets. What has happened in this music since 1968? The answer is everything and nothing, and the tools we've long used to evaluate the music probably stopped working half a century ago. So while I can't blame any of the older guard cats who are often saying this like "Coltrane did X back in the 60's" or "X is all marketing hype," that's also very much besides the point. The working reality of this music has survived decades of meaning everything and nothing, and so I feel now more than ever that jazz as an embodied system of rules and hierarchies has no real value. Speaking more to Makaya's record--I wouldn't turn my nose up at this music completely before listening to the Chicago Side of Universal Beings. The band is legit--Tomeka Reid and Junius Paul (two of Roscoe's people, lest it go unsaid) and Shabaka Hutchings (who has worked with both board great Alexander Hawkins and personal hero Louis Moholo-Moholo). The Madlib-cum-Eremite vibe of this project is maybe most fully realized on those tracks. Makaya does some stuff with the production--looped, atonal hocketing, some bizarre spatialization stuff with the panning, blending of what sound like live spontaneous sections with these very syncretic, chopped up sound environments--that I honestly don't think I've heard done in quite this way. I haven't heard much discussion of Shabaka's playing on here, but his surreal, tenorized version of Busta Rhymes's cadence is one of the few legitimately new sounding things I think I've heard on record in a while. It's like Gary Windo's hyper altissimo thing in that the conceit is so straightforward that you wonder why no one else really did it that way before.
  7. Stan Lee R.I.P.

    I'm paraphrasing and possibly even misattributing, but I recall Archie Shepp saying something to the effect that you cannot understate the value of comic books in teaching the underprivileged and communities of color how to read. I'd do one better and say that my early love of comic books gave a kind of anchor in the way of personhood that neither traditional literature nor even music were able to offer. I have very vivid memories of spending Christmas in the Philippines and reading a holiday themed issue of Superman that helped contextualize my sort of mixed heritage--Superman being, of course, a kind of paradigmatic immigrant. I was always more of a DC guy, but I think Stan Lee's mark on his medium cannot be understated. The idea that these mythical figures were at heart deeply human had a profound impact on both comic books as a narrative artform and popular fiction in general. Despite his outsize celebrity, I think it's his contributions as a writer and conceptualist that will persevere. Huge, incalculable thanks from me.
  8. Chiming in--this has been pretty worrying. As a lifelong Californian, the peril feels very real and, if it makes sense, real like never before. The 2017 fires got close to my family both down in LA and up in Plumas County; the 2018 fires are also very close but coming from different directions. I have very vivid memories of a miserable holiday season spent jogging in desperate, ashen weather and mainlining Joe McPhee albums like they were the only thing alleviating the strangling touch of the LA air. BFrank is not underselling things. The air in the Bay area is really, really bad--maybe worse than last year. I hopped out of an elevator at the hospital the other day only to find an elderly lady wearing a full-on gas mask. Activities are more or less limited to indoor stuff (not so hard for music work), but a week into this air quality and I'm feeling the effects both inside and out. Underreported (due to lesser significance) is that we had fires out in the East Bay the other week--they were contained with immediacy, but with the climate this time of year I'd advise any fellow locals to assemble something resembling an emergency plan.
  9. Wow, that's a huge one that I forgot about--I knew there was at least one more version with Dudu. Thanks for the journey. For the longest time I'd just thought of this tune as a kind of leitmotif stringing itself across Dyani's discography--I'd never really connected the dots before. FWIW I know a few bass players who swear by the Song for Biko version. I don't know if it was omitted for time or what, but it's a really heavy performance--both energy-wise and in a literal sense, in that the bass is so forward and dominant. The hookup with Ntshoko in interesting in that Dyani seems to be the anchor point; though I wouldn't necessarily call Ntshoko a light drummer, he's not allergic to either eliding the beat or spreading the time--and the cymbal-dominant afro-latin feel on this particular performance changes the shape of the groove a ton. It's an interesting point of comparison with the more-or-less contemporaneous Blue Notes performances, since Louis Moholo-Moholo is a lot more unpredictable. Sometimes, as on Blue Notes for Mongezi, Moholo-Moholo is content to let a minimalist beat ride, and Dyani's tempo/meter/groove shifts dictate the flow of the rhythm. There's also a live recording from '79 called Before the Wind Changes on which "I Wish You Sunshine" appears, and it's kind of disarming just how different the tune feels with Moholo-Moholo's obstinate pseudo-martial cadence underpinning the form. Elsewhere, as on Blue Notes in Concert, Moholo-Moholo's drumming is pure maverick abstraction--full of aggressive double-time and chaotic expansion/contraction of the beat--and (as on "Lonely Flower") it's Dyani who is providing a sense of stasis and cohesion. This isn't the sample (below) I would have chosen (can't find the album's version of "Now," which is really fucked up in the best possible way), but it goes a long way toward demonstrating just how liquid that band was--in and out of grooves, tonality, etc. with maximum freedom. The Song for Biko band is almost there--and that album has a ton of really beautiful features and compositions, no question--but it's lacking the mercurial, often contrarian push-and-pull that underpins the Blue Notes. I think it goes unnoticed that both Dyani and Moholo-Moholo were both exceptional time players and surpassing free improvisers--Dyani playing this wild post-prog stuff with Witchdoctor's Son, Moholo-Moholo participating in some wild art rock/prog in the cohort of Keith Tippett and Julie Tippetts--and still getting sampled for the intro to "Telephone Girl," etc. etc. The breadth of those guys was unreal.
  10. This tune appears a lot throughout Dyani's discography--this version and the version on Together (which features Dudu Pukwana) came to mind first. The piece is credited to Dyani on both albums, fwiw.
  11. It's Finally Out! Grex: Electric Ghost Parade

    Yes and no--the touring iteration is a duo, since the Skeleton Crew-y two kick drum formation made a kind of aesthetic sense. It's more idiosyncratic, though it suits the performance needs of this repertoire well. We're trio or larger for special projects. Drummer Robert Lopez is on the most recent record, and the great LA trumpeter Dan Clucas joined for our iteration of A Love Supreme. I'm of the mind that the studio, at least insofar as concerns this stylistically liminal music, is a different enough animal that all bets are off in the way of instrumentation and arrangement.
  12. It's Finally Out! Grex: Electric Ghost Parade

    One more re-up, if you'll please indulge me! A couple more reviews in: "Evangelista wields a swell grouchy guitar tone, Scampavia’s pipes are sweet, and when they freak out, they freak out good." - The Vinyl District (Joseph Neff) "...as far as quirky, avant-garde original music goes, I give them loads of credit for putting together something this far out and miles removed from anything commercial sounding. Go in with an open mind and see what you think." - Sea of Tranquility (Pete Pardo) Apropos of all that, here's one more video. This piece has evolved over the course of several albums, dedicated to our pet rats. It's weird, but it's our earnest (though irony-conscious) attempt at connecting the extremes of pointillistic improv and flashy skronkism:
  13. It's Finally Out! Grex: Electric Ghost Parade

    Right on, sir! It's deeply appreciated--that back catalog stuff is some of the deeper cut material (the album with Francis Wong is very old, but I'm very proud of everyone's contributions on there). Hope you enjoy!
  14. It's Finally Out! Grex: Electric Ghost Parade

    Forgot to add--I was a guest on Mike Watt's podcast a couple of weeks back. The audio (intimidatingly) starts with Miles/Coltrane, which I found hilarious but at least tonally appropriate. We talk about our musical origins, the design of the band, and some misremembered (on my part) pieces of the West Coast jazz legacy. Mike is of course the bassist/co-founder of the Minutemen, but he's worked with a large volume of wonderful improvisers, and his musical literacy is nuts. Here: The Watt from Pedro Show, On-Air Guest Karl Evangelista
  15. It's Finally Out! Grex: Electric Ghost Parade

    Hey--thank you, Chuck, for lending your support!