ep1str0phy

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  1. Hey, all- Not so much jazz as "jazz adjacent", but I'm deeply excited about this and wish to share--after several years of blood, sweat, and the other things, my project Grex has released its brand new album, entitled Electric Ghost Parade. I've never worked on anything as hard as I've worked on this record, so if you have the time and ears, this is the one. It's an unpredictable but incendiary and exhilarating paean to the epic psychedelic albums of the 1960's, traversing the cutting edge of modern indie rock, noise, and free jazz. It summarizes lessons I've learned from the likes of (former teachers) Fred Frith and Roscoe Mitchell, and it captures, I think, a lot of the character of the Bay Area avant rock scene as it's existed in the past decade. You can purchase the album, and listen to a few choice tracks, here: https://grex.bandcamp.com/album/electric-ghost-parade Some early reviews: “Grex strikes an interesting balance between the exploratory tendencies of psychedelic rock and free jazz with a more modern indie-pop sensibility.” - The Los Angeles Beat (Ted Kane) “a wide-ranging and excitingly unpredictable sound” - The Bay Bridged (Ben Van Houten) “I haven’t heard such varying psych sounds in more recent times since The Fiery Furnaces went their separate ways some nine years ago. An excellent release.” - Echoes and Dust (Ljubinko Zivkovic) “Coming from a free-jazz, improvisational background, creating spontaneous art was Evangelista's general methodology with Grex…The resulting songs are dynamic and at times quirky and jubilant, like something Bay Area avant-pop band Deerhoof might play.” - East Bay Express (Aaron Carnes) “these Bay Area brainiacs trip out on a chilled-out yet complex attack of math-rock heroics, free-improvisational freak-outs, and psych-rock weirdness as they channel Henry Kaiser and Hendrix.” - The Brooklyn Rail (Brad Cohan) “It’s a sardonically noisy psychedelic rock record with a little free jazz thrown in to keep you guessing. And it’s an awful lot of fun.” - New York Music Daily (Alan Young) Here's a video of our two piece in action: You can hear more about us here: http://www.grexsounds.com More music here: http://grex.bandcamp.com And we're on Spotify and Tidal, if that suits your fancy. Thanks for listening, folks!
  2. 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:
  3. 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!
  4. 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
  5. It's Finally Out! Grex: Electric Ghost Parade

    Hey--thank you, Chuck, for lending your support!
  6. Grex Album Release Tour '18

    One more bump with the East Coast leg coming up--some tremendous bills on the horizon (including the murderers' row of folks on the NY dates--of interest here is that Aaron Novik's all-wind group for the H0L0 date includes Thomas Heberer, Patrick Holmes, and Vincent Chancey (!)). @JSngry --that Amarillo date was amazing. Apparently the arts community there is in its earlier stages but very strong--a lot of energy revolving around avant-rock, drone, and the like, though maybe not so much pure jazz. The Mariposa Eco-Village people are largely on the younger side and very committed.
  7. Hey, all- Getting this in just under the wire! Thank you in advance for the indulgence, and for humoring me- I'm very proud to be announcing that, after several years of blood, sweat, and tears, my project Grex is gearing up for the release our brand new full-length album, entitled Electric Ghost Parade. The album is sort of a paean to the high concept jazz and psychedelic rock albums of the 1960's, but the music is a very contemporary synthesis of song and fringe improvisation. In preparation for the album release, we’ll be mounting a wild nationwide tour, covering parts of the Bay Area, the American NW, So Cal, the Southwest, the EC, and the midwest. It’s a jam-packed itinerary, but we’re thrilled: we’ll be featuring all-new, never-before-heard arrangements of the album material. Rehearsals have been sublime—it’s the best set we’ve ever had. I'm also pretty proud of the bills, many of which should be of interest to some of the folks on here (Allen Lowe features on the CT show, below). The album streets on July 20, but preorders (and some sample listening) are available now: https://grex.bandcamp.com/album/electric-ghost-parade And more about us here: http://www.grexsounds.com Tour Dates: June 15, Sacramento, CA at Fox & Goose (w/Gentleman Surfer, Amy Reed) June 16, Reno, NV at Reno Community Radio Station (w/Rob Ford Explorer, Everybody Dies for Now) June 18, Seattle, WA at the Royal Room (w/Chris Icasiano, Tiny Ghost) June 19, Olympia, WA at Le Voyeur (w/Hammer of Hathor, Arrington de Dionyso's Malaikat Dan Singa) June 20, Eugene, OR at Old Nicks (w/Mood Area 52, Megan Johns) June 21, Portland, OR at Kenton Club (w/Rllrbll, Galaxy Research) June 22, Bellingham, WA at Alternative Library (w/Tetrachromat, Nauticult, Bliss Point) June 23, Portland, OR at Mothership Music (w/The Social Stomach, San Kazakgascar Solo) June 26, San Diego, CA at The Merrow (w/The Grok, Nicey Nice World) June 27, Los Angeles, CA at The Silverlake Lounge (with Steuart Liebig and Emily Hay, Logan Hone, Max Kutner) June 29, Long Beach, CA at 4th Street Vine (w/Baast) June 30, Joshua Tree, CA at Joshua Tree Saloon July 3, Truth or Consequences, NM at TOC Brewing Co. (w/Tatsuya Nakatani) July 4, Amarillo, TX at Mariposa Eco-Village (w/Hayden Pedigo, Andrew Weathers, Fat Lava) July 7, Washington, DC at Rhizome (w/Ted Zook's Heterodyne, Pagan Reagan) July 8, Arlington, VA at Galaxy Hut (w/Chester Hawkins) July 9, Providence, RI at Alchemy July 10, Boston, MA at Midway Cafe (w/Fable Grazer, The Modern Voice, Brown Lasers) July 11, Queens, NY at H0L0 (w/Ron Anderson/Kevin Shea, Max Jaffe, Aaron Novik Quartet) July 12, Brooklyn, NY at Pine Box Rock Shop (w/Devin Hoff Solo, Dunkelman/Yang/Mcmurray) July 13, Philadelphia, PA at Random Tea Room (w/Mitch Esparza) July 14, Hamden, CT at Best Video (w/Special Guest Allen Lowe) July 15, Chicago, IL at Elbo Room (w/Tatsu Aoki, La Cosa) July 16, Kansas City, MO at Uptown Arts Bar (w/Music Research Strategies/Marshall Trammell [of Black Spirituals]) July 19, Live Mic on KFJC July 20, Alameda, CA at The Fireside Lounge (w/IMA, Qualia, Scott Amendola’s Orchestra) Hope to see you! K/ep1str0phy
  8. Coltrane: Both Directions At Once (lost album)

    Granted the the gatekeeper-y nature of what I said, let me phrase things a different way: as someone who will listen to anything Coltrane at least once--and almost anything many times--listening to Both Directions at Once made me wish I could hear Interstellar Space or Transition for the first time again. Of course you can listen to anything in any order, and any given person will hear something different from the next--but the eminence of Coltrane seems to dull the keenness of value judgements if and when they are useful. Clearly a subjective problem and not an objective one, but as someone who loves this music and has studied it as best I can, I'd love to hear more assessments of this stuff not only as pertains to some kind of canon but also in the way of what's useful and valuable there. I've seen a lot of "this is great" but not so much "this is what it adds to the picture," if that makes sense. I'll qualify that by saying that while I think we've had enough as a culture in the way of endless dissection of tertian root movements, I'd love to know more about the Coltrane-as-thinker/philosopher that's much more abstract than Slonimsky patterns--the guy who derived synthetic scales from maps, and the guy who assembled the diagrams of cascading whole tone scales that resolve into a five-point star (the kinds of diagrams found in the packaging for Both Directions at Once, and with no explanation or detail). Lost somewhere in the hagiography of all this is, to me at least, the notion that there's something deeper in there than the technocratic business that preoccupies so much Coltrane-informed jazz, and that time spent on a rehearsal tape could just as well be spent taking apart Stellar Regions or something. I say this as someone who should in theory be practicing/studying right now, (again) granted the fact that I wouldn't dream of having the brute force comprehension to take this stuff apart on my own.
  9. Coltrane: Both Directions At Once (lost album)

    I'm surprised by the relative lack of discussion on this one. On the one hand, it is (mostly) new Coltrane not very far removed from the classic quartet's peak; on the other hand, this is another instance of impossibly large hype for a project whose present-day historical importance outstrips its relative value in the oeuvre of the artist in question. I'm on tour and have picked up the habit of perusing O and the Hoffman board between sets, and the general vibe is neither hugely positive or negative (or even ranty/cynical)--just somewhere in the middle. On the other other hand--Imagine an enthusiastic newcomer to Coltrane's catalog hearing, say, Giant Steps or A Love Supreme for the first time and trying to figure out where to go next--can you imagine listening to this before something like Coltrane's Sound, let alone a marginal classic like Crescent or even First Meditations? In my cursory and probably incomplete read, this is like third or fourth tier stuff, with the caveat that it's Coltrane in his heyday and, well, even lo-fi classic Trane at incorrect speeds is dope as shit. The familiar repertoire--like the takes of "Impressions" or the new take of "Nature Boy"--feels makeweight, and the "new" pieces have an unfinished character (offset, admittedly, by episodes of inspired soloing and committed ensemble interplay). Very little of this feels like it's down for posterity. It's like a '63 version of the Living Space comp--the intensity, conviction, and completeness of the band are what carry over the moments of maladroitness. If there's a lesson to be glommed from this recording, it's that the mechanical stuff of Coltrane's individual voice--the wild harmonic interpolations, the calculated multiphonics, the devastating lyricism--is so thoroughly practiced that it speaks through even the least accomplished of the quartet's music. Time to practice, man.
  10. Grex Album Release Tour '18

    It's part of "a" touring circuit. My friend Andrew Weathers (who plays compelling American primitivist guitar with some electronic elements) would know more about it--he's living in Texas right now. These aren't proper jazz channels, but the touring options for general experimental/improvised music are surprisingly broad these days. Waffles in Portland, then Kenton Club tonight...
  11. Grex Album Release Tour '18

    Thanks for the rec, Chuck! Hopefully we'll make it out that way next time. Seattle coming up (today) at the Royal Room with Chris Icasiano of the brilliant sax/drum duo Bad Luck (http://www.badluckband.net/) and the sublime chamber jazz ensemble Tiny Ghost. First two dates have been intense.
  12. Jon Hiseman RIP

    So sad to hear about this. Those first few Colosseum albums really meant a lot to me when I was first getting into music--and Hiseman's drumming on Jack Bruce's Songs for a Tailor might be my favorite in that specific rock-jazz vein. Of the great early British jazz-rock drummers, I credit Hiseman and John Marshall--and the lesser-known Rob Tait, too--with being the most successful at rounding off the complexity of post-Elvin jazz drumming without sounding either too boxy or simplistic. A tough task done surpassingly well. RIP.
  13. Coltrane: Both Directions At Once (lost album)

    Whoa, what the hell? Where did this come from? I don't have a copy of the John Coltrane Reference, but was there any prior indication that this session even existed? Let alone 2 CDs worth of contiguous material? Maybe (?) our fault as a broader listening/playing community for entertaining an endless stream of posthumous releases, but this one sounds like a big deal. And legit. Hasn't it been decades at this point since we've heard a "new", more or less complete record/session from Coltrane's archives?
  14. Andre St. James (bassist from Portland Oregon)

    He was a really cool guy--and a great player. Never actually played with him, but shared a bill with him once (with the similarly great Tim DuRoche), and we had plenty of mutual friends. He was a light out in Portland. Many of the guys emanating from that 70-80's WC scene--all on records that might now only seem legendary/obscure--are still very active. India Cooke was on the Mills faculty while I was there, and virtually all of the folks from United Front are still active in the Bay.
  15. Thanks for that, Jim--similar to how it goes with internet discourse, a lot more is communicated through tone and visuals than one might grok from text interviews. So this confirms a bit of my suspicion--i.e., that the staid mechanics of her later bands are intentional, or at least the upshot of certain aesthetic preferences. On the other hand, what she says about Valente is instructive. Bley seems to have a preoccupation with order and structure that is in tension with a lot of her (at least from my perspective) most interesting music. It's as if, especially in light of what she says about free jazz, Ayler, Ornette, Elton Dean, Brotzmann, etc., her takeaway from the avant-garde of the last century is everything but the mechanics--an inversion of a lot of the other compositional music related to or descended from classic free jazz (i.e., where the mechanics remain but the compositional stuff is replaced). This piece is pretty telling: Iverson, for one, seems to favor Ballad of the Fallen, though while I very much enjoy it, it seems to lack the shattering fervor that I love so much about the first LMO album. Both albums utilize similar source material (at least in terms of sound and structure), but on Ballad the filigree of abstraction is stripped away and confined. The solos on this piece in particular seem to emanate from a different environment entirely, Cherry almost cut-and-pasted from an Old and New Dreams record. The rhythmic nebulousness and aggressive dissonance on his solo are almost too disconnected from everything else, at least until the ripieno enters. It feels like a stark contrast to his episodes on this suite from the first LMO, which bubble up from the ensemble ether and subsequently direct the action of the full band: Different time periods, recording environment/fidelity, etc. etc., and yes there's a deliberate sense of collage on "El Quinto Regimiento," but I think the first LMO album is the only one to really get the programmatic underpinning "right"--i.e., that revolution is violent, populist, and uncontrolled. Maybe this isn't the music Carla (or Haden) wanted to make, but I certainly think that it's the more powerful document--incidentally, Bley sounds freaking awesome banging away in the midst of this free tempo chaos.
  16. Actually, this band did happen and is on a few of Jack's official releases. There's even video: Again, I have a strong appreciation for much of Bley's music but Bruce's is some of my favorite vocal rock music of any era--and having listened to a lot of what Bley has done and (I think) most of what Bruce recorded, I'd say that this band was kind of middling for both folks. I don't think that Bley's talents as an instrumentalist really benefit in a context in which she isn't the focus (and in which the arrangement is more or less tailored to spotlight her manner of off-kilter composer's piano, ala "War Orphans" or her feature on Relativity Suite), as was the case in this project. Bruce's voice was in the midst of a transition and it's pretty rough going for most of this band's appearances, and the other big star in the ensemble (Taylor) was relegated to a perplexing middle-ground between warmed-over Claptonisms and pseudo-Robben Ford stuff. Tangent time: I have no idea what the party line on proper jazz-rock is anymore (vs. the more overt avant-gardeisms of the Canterbury bands or the more aggressively experimental stuff emanating from the likes of John Stevens, Trevor Watts, or even--to stretch the genre to its limits--some of the South African improvisers of that vintage), and Jack's appearances within this axis always struck me as kind of peripheral to the action (occupied as he often was with more commercial fare). But I'd commit to the notion that the studio versions of much of the repertoire from the Bley-Taylor band--the things from Harmony Row especially--are abso-fucking-lutely brilliant. As more "rock with a jazz inflection" rather than "jazz with a rock inflection," the music sounds at once experimental, fluid, and fully-realized. Example (featuring Chris Spedding and John Marshall of Nucleus):
  17. "Real" in that I seldom feel like she's tackling the musical content--with its contextual implications, the technical possibilities inherent in the material, the broader narrative of whatever culture on genre she's plugging into--on its own terms. Keep in mind I don't feel as if she's under any obligation to do so, and I should also state that I feel as if Bley is a great artist in her own right--but as I (kind of) said above, I feel as if her genius resides in concept play and curation of genres rather than engaging with those genres in any really profound way. My assumption is that "Very Very Simple" is meant to serve as a counterexample to "Two Banana," since it's the same kind of blues shuffle feel and it's a lot less buttoned down. I think it actually reinforces my core point--the band is playing pretty mundane stuff, with the exception of Valente's solo (which is it's own kind of mannered, to be fair--but what isn't, and that's splitting hairs). The music is basically just a prop for some irony and clever concept work. It's 100% Carla Bley, which is why I agree that it's unfair to say that her music is any less personal than anyone else's--but I also think that it's so disengaged from the base materials of the music that it has to have been by design. I think it's telling that Bley says what she does about D Sharpe in Iverson's article: “I just loved him at first sight and first sound. He was from the rock and roll world. D. Sharpe dressed really great. He had a cool demeanor about him. He looked so different. I liked him the way he was physically. Then, he would use two loaves of Italian bread or something to take a solo. He had a good sense of humor. I thought he had a nice groove, too.” It's very personal stuff--about vibe and appearance, and a little bit about Sharpe's musical piquancy. One would assume that these are many of the things that are most meaningful to her about that relationship--and it's little about what Sharpe actually plays. Maybe she'd go into more detail in another context, who knows. But, again, I don't think CB is under any obligation to do so, and that's not a knock. And lest it go unsaid, I wouldn't knock anyone for being, as you say, "a roller skating Nordic-American church girl." And that's definitely a part of her aesthetic ethos. And again--again--I say this as someone who really admires a lot of Carla's work and loves, on a profound level, a significant amount of that work. I do have some personal (which are consequentially musical) reservations about how she handles music that lies outside of her purview. There is actually a much denser conversation here that I willingly open myself up to--but which I will say up front I am not totally equipped to unpack--about race and perception. There is a lot to dissect about the phrase, "Just as it was, I thought free jazz needed work"--and that enters the realm where personal reservations veer into issues of identity and ideology and axes to grind.
  18. C'mon man, I'm only on the internet for the violent antagonism. With regard to what Jim says--keep in mind I'm not dumping on Bley so much as trying to articulate a kind of ambivalence I have toward much of her work. The comparison with Threadgill is is meant to underline how two people who can and do use similar source materials wind up on completely different sides of reality. The socio-politics of this are one thing, and the musical content is something else entirely. When Threadgill interfaces with idiomatic blues tropes, you get "I Can't Wait Till I Get Home": When Carla Bley does, you get this: In all fairness, there's a lot of harmonic meat in the second example that might be considered archetypal Bley (that nebulous-sounding descending octave line in the horns, for one). And the Threadgill example is and isn't paradigmatic Threadgill, since it's less inflected than a lot of the Sextett stuff. But--and this is important, at least to me--there's a kind of stiltedness when Bley mixes into the 6/8 thing that is just impossible to ignore. The solos are relentlessly professional, the harmonies perfectly balanced and articulated, the timekeeping precise and unobtrusive. When working with more recalcitrant players--like a Motian or Andrew Cyrille--the edges start showing, but it's almost in spite of the charts rather than because of them. I think it's up for debate whether these issues are merely a matter of choosing the "right" sidemen or something intrinsic to the music itself. And maybe I was wrong to imply that Bley's approach is somehow less personal, but I do maintain that there's an overriding dispassion and distance in so much of Bley's work that the remove begins to feel like a decision rather than an accident. I always feel like Threadgill is being real with the audience and the performance; Bley, much less so.
  19. I admit my sentiments above aren't the most carefully worded, so let me put it another way--I don't think there's any mutual exclusivity between the practice of vacationing in genres and the notion of being a careful, or even artful, curator of said genres. I seldom get the sense that Carla has an intimate relationship with much the music she is arranging--at worst it's just well-crafted pastiche, and even at it's best there's often a kind of remove that I have a hard time listening past--but I concede that there's often an awareness there. As with "Rawalpindi Blues"--the text is mostly inscrutable, as I'm assuming was Haines's intent, and the vague world music elements are, as I said, kind of hammily done and not very deeply engaged. That blues rock section--which I love--is kind of ersatz Lifetime. It does feel kind of dilettante-ish, but I sense that this is exactly the point--that the Don Cherry that appears on Escalator, for example, is not the same Don Cherry from Eternal Now, but rather a reference to or impression of him. I'd invoke "postmodernism" in the truest sense but I also think that the reality is slightly more mundane than that--that things like Escalator are more about the task and practice of colliding things together rather than doing any of those things, individually, particularly well.
  20. As a brief aside, I find it interesting that, oftentimes, the people most inclined to say things like "we don't need an audience" are either (a) artists who've already been outright rejected by a broader listener base or (b) people who've been blessed with an exceptional number of opportunities and a great deal of appreciation, striving/hard work/hustle aside. Irony aside, too, of course. As for the basic sentiment of "I don't care if you like it or not," I feel like that's kind of how it should be, especially with regard to intrinsically non or uncommercial music. Appreciate it for what it is rather than what it isn't or can't be. I do find something appropriationist about some of the quiet storm/smooth jazz stuff that Jim links to here, and I don't invoke that word with the intent of inflaming factionalist sentiment--I think it just is what it is. And I feel this way about a lot of Bley's music--the number of records or projects that feel like they claim a specific conceptual identity, rather than just a general impression of eclecticism or series of habits in the way of arrangement, are few. Tropic Appetites maybe? But, again, I don't think it really matters here. Not to go off on too much of a tangent, but the contrast with Threadgill is pretty extreme--when he interfaces with R&B, blues, soul, etc.--it feels vivid and personal, like a part of the genetics; Bley always seems to me like she's vacationing in the genres she toys with. The politics of this are one thing, but the music is another, and I actually come out of it on the positive side of things. In a world that has a deep-set deficit in the way of treating women with a nuance, reality, and inclusiveness, I like that Bley comes out of it with her own kind of story. To go back a bit on what I just said, and talking about Bley as a musical identity rather than just some kind of abstract figure, I don't think the successes of something like Escalator can be understated--not just in the way of this doom-y, fun house mirror-type big band arrangement, but in the consideration and subtlety behind the genre play. I've said here and elsewhere that the post-Cream work of Jack Bruce is some of the very best and most inventive of its kind, and both Michael Mantler and Bley know how to use his talents--not just in the way of utility voice or bass but also with regard to the implications of using a genre superstar in something as heterogeneous as Escalator. Escalator pushes Bruce's voice to its absolute limits, and the things that he's often criticized for in rock circles--the overbearing operaticism married to "proper" vocal technique, the frequent flatness--enhance the notion that this project is both a reversal of the rock opera (classical musicians playing at rock, rather than the other way around) and a kind of faux, not-to-be-taken-seriously work of art music. I can't find a link to an actual recording of the song on youtube, but the segue from Bruce's agonized vocals to the kind of junky sounding "blues rock jam"--featuring half of Lifetime, by the way, plus Paul Motian and Bley--is the kind of heightened irony--but sublime musicality--that I have all day for. I am 100% in support of that kind of shit.
  21. Un-lurking because I was unpacking this while doing dishes this morning. I actually really enjoyed the Iverson piece, if only because there's so little discussion of Bley as a figure inside of new/avant-garde jazz. I only ever see her discussed as a pure iconoclast and something apart from that historical movement, and I know that there were some tensions therein (as referenced in an article I read a while back, where she spoke dismissively of Brotzmann and co.). In terms of the quote above ("...easy meat when making a mash-up"), I think it's worth noting that the critical narrative, especially insofar as concerns a guy like Iverson, is a work in progress. Iverson has gone from poster boy for populist postmodernism to mediator between contemporary composition and jazz formalism--a tension that was always evident in the Bad Plus, as far as I can tell--and there needn't be any more reality or utility to this kind of reductionist talk (vis-a-vis "triadic structures) than is relevant to the narrative the writer is trying to put forward. And I say this as someone who agrees in a pretty fundamental way with what you (Allen) say. In other words, I'm ok with the editorializing in this instance not because it's "true," but because the picture it is painting says something relevant (if not necessarily useful) about the world that both Iverson and Bley inhabit. Of course things like rock, bluegrass, gospel etc. are more complex and nuanced than Iverson says--but not here, and not in this way. Listen to the Threadgill Sextett, for example, for something that engages equally with social musics and Euro and American classical traditions in a meaningful way. That shit is complex--but it operates within a sound world and conceptual framework that is just alien imagination to someone like Bley--and that's maybe kind of the rub. I adore the first Liberation Music Orchestra and mostly like the others. I think Escalator Over the Hill is a mess that touches greatness more often than it doesn't, and I can give or take a lot of the later music--but Iverson does make one really specific and good point. The brutal, often ironic, cabaret-like color of Bley's music really, really works when there are individualistic voices in the band--and I like the connection to Ayler that Bley brings up partway through. The first LMO album is supposed to be this series of ambling Spanish strains that teeters between chaos and unity--in a metatextual, overtly revolutionary way--and it works because of the disharmony between the players and the material. This type of thing isn't always what the doctor orders--and it can be absolutely desultory when both the music and the underlying programmatic content have nothing to say--but that concept in the hands of Barbieri, Cherry, Haden, Motian, etc. is sublime art.
  22. Cecil Taylor RIP

    I never met Cecil in person, never got to study or play with him, only saw him live once--in a very forbidding environment--but his presence was absolutely monumental in this music, and I can't imagine anyone who inhabits free jazz or creative music or whatever not feeling this sudden, encompassing sense of loss with CT's passing. Virtually all of the key innovators of early American free music are gone now. Consider this--the chapter spotlights in Valerie Wilmer's As Serious As Your Life include Trane, Cecil, Ornette, Sun Ra, Ayler, and the AACM, in addition to shorter features on people like Bill Dixon, Dennis Charles, Ed Blackwell, etc. Ekkehard Jost's Free Jazz includes chapters on Trane, Mingus, Ornette, Cecil, Shepp, Ayler, Don Cherry, Sun Ra, and the AACM. If you have a chance to see Shepp or the early wave AACM guys who are still around, drive 500, drive 1,000 miles to do it. As a scholar, listener, or musician, you absolutely owe it to yourself to inhabit a little bit of history so long as it still graces this planet. I've detailed my personal connection to this music elsewhere, but suffice it to say that the kind of dogged iconoclasm at the heart of Cecil's music is not something to be taken lightly. I remember hearing a certain august improviser say of Derek Bailey, "He made a lot of sacrifices," and I imagine, without being privy to much in the way of private insights, that this was true of Cecil, too. Cecil's example emboldens even as it cautions, though, as to fight and survive and flourish in this music--and for so long--you need to come from a place of love, and joy, and purpose. That's something I have to remind myself of every day. I liked Ethan Iverson's invocation of the "if there hadn't been X, we would have needed to invent him" truism, because it's absolutely appropriate in this case. There's a spectrum of technical practice that encompasses "free jazz piano" and emanates outward into territories like bassless trios, large group free jazz, and especially vague categories like "energy music" that is marked by Cecil's innovations. Versions of CT's alphabetic notation are everywhere among a certain generation and category of improvising musician, and I don't think it's a stretch to say that this kind of elaborate restructuring of traditional notational strictures helped pave the way for the normalization of graphic scores in contemporary jazz. And while I'm sure many are much better equipped to detail Cecil's contributions to the lexicon of modern piano, it needs to be said that his innovations--in parallel and in consort with Albert Ayler--in the way of liberating jazz harmony, timbre, and especially rhythm section praxis are absolutely monumental. That's broad-stroke, macro stuff that isn't limited to free jazz. And man, the highs were crazy high--we can spend lifetimes of boards and threads taking apart things like Unit Structures, Air Above Mountains, One Too Many Salty Swift and Not Goodbye, 3 Phasis, Akisakila, Spring of Two Blue J's, and on and on and on. Just 1,000,000x thanks.
  23. Grace Kelly

    I think you bring up a pretty good point, which is that it's impossible for me to understand exactly how it feels to be a cis white male in this cultural environment. I can appreciate that we're in the midst of a big pivot in the way that criticism interfaces with cultural production, but I think it's important to recognize that all parties are confronting this pivot in different ways and with different considerations in mind. The way in which many white writers seem to be coming to terms with addressing and advocating on behalf of marginalized groups is interesting to me in that this is the universe that most people of ostensibly oppressed groups or minority descent (for lack of a better term) have had to live in for a very long time. None of this is to say that a person like me can't share that experience to a certain extent--e.g., I think that many males of color have lately had to deal with, to dredge this up again, the kinds of misogyny embedded in our cultures. It's only that when I have to watch this cycle of constant remonstration, guilt, and self-censorship, I feel peripheral to the conversation--as if it has more to do with the self-censored rather than the marginalized group in question. There are a ton of illustrative anecdotes I could bring up, but a historical (and relevant) one comes to mind. There's a (paraphrased) quote from Dudu Pukwana--something that he said to an African American musician--which was this: "I am African. You are American." Dispensing for a moment with discussions of Diaspora and the value of the term "African American"--this was Pukwana's self-made distinction, and it was said with the intention of establishing a narrative that few people had really bothered to explore. South African does not equal African American does not equal African, necessarily, etc. etc. All this goes to say that the important distinction in this case was made by the marginalized person, which is more or less how it always goes. There's a reason that George Lewis was the one to write the definitive AACM book, or why we still read the Miles or Mingus autobiographies--or something like Notes & Tones--years after better scholarship has been made available. You can really only speak for your experience. I wish it were easy enough to say something like "don't presume and don't be a dick to others and listen to other people when they try to tell you things about themselves" and get the proper effect. Obviously that is not the case. What I do firmly believe to be true is that the current climate of political and cultural shaming isn't sustainable, because (too put it maybe too simply again) a culture predicated on fear is more or less a flower bed for actual, substantive hatred and oppression. I wish absolutely anyone knew a credible way out of this conundrum, but as we get years past 2016 I begin to worry that we're just getting angrier.
  24. Grace Kelly

    Wanted to chime in on this one. I've been largely absent from discussion in main because many of the most incendiary dialogues are (now) skirting dangerously close to my immediate peer group, which has given me a new and somewhat uncomfortable perspective on the paradigm of audience (as recipient) v. performer. Weird waking up to the notion that what I thought was casual, largely objective discussion on legendary musicians existing at a kind of remove is actual casual, largely subjective discussion about real people who you may or may not have lunch with at some point. We've reached a weird punctuation mark in the reception of culture whereby almost every discussion seems to demand an avowal or disavowal of a certain set of political beliefs--which shouldn't read as anything new, since jazz has always involved issues of race, ethnicity, class, etc.--but I think it's beginning to have a negative impact on the broader critical discourse. I feel weird having to pull the "as a X of X" card, but as a binational person of color who is baldly preoccupied with progressive causes in my "real" life, I've begun to tune out most conversations about cultural sensitivity in jazz because they're almost invariably about introspection on the part of the interlocutors rather than anything, well, musical. Remember when there was that gigantic Twitter kerfuffle involving Ethan Iverson and Robert Glasper? The Do the Math blog has been running interviews and essays on female musicians for months now and I've barely heard a word from social media. Not that Iverson should necessarily be congratulated for normalizing this kind of representational journalism--it's the kind of stuff that jazz should have been doing for forever now--but when you expend a ridiculous amount of social energy on dragging one guy down for his cultural transgressions--and then say more or less nothing when he attempts to fix said transgressions--then the problem has as much to do with the dialogue as it has to do with the people talking. This gets into even harrier territory, but as someone who can only really understand white guilt as an observer and not a participant, I'm a little taken aback at how many conversations about minority groups tend to devolve into a (rhetorical, but not necessarily literal) dick measuring contest between, to put it bluntly, self-flagellant white cis males and aggressive men's rights/white victim folks. (Just to clarify before people freak out, I'm not lumping anyone here into one group or the other--I'm describing the general tenor of a conversation I'm seeing unfold everywhere, and not just on the internet.) There's a place for this kind of dialogue--and it's a necessary one, I think--but this is a conversation that runs parallel to critical appraisal. You're living in a toxic environment when Jim feels the need to explain his feelings on one musician just because her cross-section of demographics is so politically charged. All this goes to say that there's a distinction to be made between how music is received as an embodied piece of technical practice v. how music is received as representational cultural artifact. There is absolutely intersection therein but I'm frankly tiring of the mandate that we need to preface every critical conversation over, say, women in jazz with a declaration of our purposes and inclinations. If you really want to get into the conceptual nightmare of addressing the political implications of every single work of improvised music, then come strapped--let's talk about how the critical response to Cecil Taylor and Sun Ra is tied into embedded homophobia among midcentury jazz communities, or how cultural treatment of South African jazz musicians is embedded in our privileged conflation of ethnic and national identities, or how dealing with women in jazz has to do with an ethos of judging masculine-coded musical practices v. feminine-coded musical practices, etc. etc. I and many people on this board can do this all day, but to what end--and who actually benefits?
  25. Michael Cosmic Reissue finally here

    Hey, folks--I disappeared up the crevice for a while and so I'm not sure how much weight this recommendation brings, but this reissue is legit. I say this with full acknowledgment for the fact that Clifford's been a friend and supporter for a long time--I speak purely to musical considerations, since ultimately that's all that matters. I went on an obsessive box binge over the holidays, and the clear winners were this one and the Joe McPhee Nation Time recording box from a few years back. I think that the music of this vintage arrived at moment when the exigencies of spontaneity and identity affirmation had to confront, by virtue of time and external realities, things like structural innovation and technical achievement. The AACM guys are the deserving, historically acknowledged masters of this era, but it's deeply instructive to peek in on all these regional scenes to see how the same philosophical and conceptual considerations were being dealt with in different, often divergent ways. I've been listening, too, to Sunny Murray's music in the wake of his passing, and I'm reminded a bit of something the former Marvin Patillo said to me once--that many of the guys from this vintage "could not play" and this was a well-traded truth. The people who could, or whose concepts were coherent enough to survive the era--capital letter people like Ornette or lesser known lights like Noah Howard--found ways to adjust or pivot out of the pure, dispersive free thing of the 60's. The rub against this is the (controversial) reality that people with incomplete technical concepts--like McPhee, who started playing tenor in '68 and recorded Underground Railroad in '68-69 (!)--can and did make substantive contributions to the embodied intellect of the music. This speaks a little to Cosmic's music but also, I think, says a lot about some of the reservations I have about both contemporary free jazz and the composite picture of modern day avant-garde composition/improvisation. There's just a lot of flail-y, unrealized free jazz and a lot of overwrought, technically sterile avant-garde stuff traded about. There's also a lot of deeply brilliant regional and "big city" music that goes unheard because of the philosophical dint of modern jazz criticism. I can only imagine my excitement at hearing something as bloody and real as the Cosmic/Musra group or Nation Time in the early 1970's--and take stock in the understanding that there's a lot of similarly exciting music happening everywhere, right now. This is all a circular way of saying that things like Peace in the World are absolutely invaluable documents of both the era and the un-dimming spirit of (in the romantic sense) unheard music. I was only peripherally attuned to this music before, and I can hear the debt to things like the early AACM music, the Paris guys, and Center of the World, but it's absolutely it's own thing--played with conviction and energy and its own ragged precision, and not so dissimilar to, say, the wilder experiments of the UGMAA or earlier William Parker. It's big, blustery, loping music, but there's a clear compositional and technical impetus at play, and most important of all, it's as far away from boring as the needle can get.