ep1str0phy

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  1. The Bad Plus

    This is kind of worth some discussion, but not just here--it demands a degree of scrutiny from the actual performing music community in New York and elsewhere. I stayed very, very far away from this part of the issue when the debate was at its most raging, because heated accusations and developing meaningful, dialogic relationships with other musicians do not mix. The sad, practical reality of personal comportment in professional jazz music is often just that--kind of whack, sanctimonious, and unreflective. There's a bunch of stuff about glass houses and looking like a fool that--and I'll only speak for myself here--I'm not interested in participating in. I hope that others, many more esteemed than I, can operate on the same frequency. There as a useful point that Iverson has classically only real been interested in documenting and discussing a particular locus of jazz performance, and so nurturing some sort of panoptic scholarship isn't really his responsibility. On the other hand, Iverson has developed a critical voice in this music that in some way outsizes his instrumental contributions, so a degree of self-awareness would be kind of neat. I saw some very well-respected musicians (people for whom I harbor deep personal respect) piling on Iverson in some pretty unfair ways. I heard the accusation that he never recorded with a female musician, which is patently untrue:
  2. The Bad Plus

    It bears some notice that every time I run into a group of <30 year old jazz musicians, they invariably know who the Bad Plus is. I admit that my sample size may not be large enough, of course, but it's always "yes" to the Bad Plus, Glasper, Badbadnotgood, Kneebody, and a handful of other bands in that age/peer group--and "no" to ranking critical fare like Vijay Iyer, Roscoe Mitchell, or Myra Melford. Every time. Bill Frisell gets an "oh yeah, I know who that is" if you're lucky. That's absolutely not a knock on either that sub 30 age group or any of the musicians identified here, only a stray observation that, whether we like it or not, people like the Bad Plus are shaping the perceptions of the next wave(s) of young jazz musicians in a very direct fashion. On a personal creative level, I think that it's all neither here nor there--practical knowledge of Julius Hemphill's music was always going to be a fringe thing regardless of era--but it has made me sit up and pay attention to a lot of this populist, kind-of trendy jazz that prevails now.
  3. The Bad Plus

    I was very pleasantly surprised to see this board avoid the Glasper quagmire--it was embarrassing for everyone involved, and the only positive to come of it was an earnest discussion about the visibility of women in jazz. Glasper said some dumb stuff that he probably didn't and/or doesn't care to reflect too much on, and Iverson may have gotten a little too entrenched in his attempt to refrain from editorializing the interview. It looked for a moment like Iverson was making excuses for Glasper--and maybe he was, to a degree--but it just exploded out of hand. The fact that the tenor of the discussion shifted quickly from analytical discussion into the realm of hysterical remonstration and hamfisted non-apology says a lot about the ludicrous state of dialogue that has consumed so much of jazz culture as of late. Glasper was never going to care--and will never care--about this dialogue as much as his critics did and do. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't call bullshit on it, only that (maybe) our passions and intellectual resources would have been better spent doing any number of things--like, for example, investing some bandwidth in conducting the interviews with female musicians that Iverson is for some reason failing to book, or maybe promoting the scores of female led or female inclusive projects that seem to get buried under perpetual coverage of Glapser and the Bad Plus. A few people got it right: "Deeds, not words." On the other hand, I'll never understand the factional warfare that surrounds the Bad Plus--even a cursory listen to their recordings will convey the fact that the music has a degree of ambition and technical sophistication that is closer in character to jazz school Young Lionisms or the oversized acoustic jazz of the 70's than it does the Yellowjackets. I dig that the objections are aesthetic, but I just can't see how the music is any more offensive in its space than Ramsey Lewis, Vince Guaraldi, or Brad Mehldau's more treacly moments. I do, however, understand the objection about how music like this tends to consume the broader conversation in a very black hole-like fashion. In the spirit of the Glasper imbroglio, you could (instead) listen to: Carla Bley, Myra Melford, Alice Coltrane, Mary Halvorson, Joanne Brackeen, Geri Allen, Renee Rosnes, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Marilyn Crispell, Amina Claudie Myers, Tomeka Reid, Jane Ira Bloom, Lisa Mezzacappa, Ingrid Laubrock, Beth Custer, Zeena Parkins, Ava Mendoza, Mary Lou Williams, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Terri Lyne Carrington, Regina Carter, Susie Ibarra, Joelle Leandre, and so on. (I think I limited myself to instrumentalists, and I'm sure others can fill in some blanks.)
  4. I mean, I hope that's something we can all agree on. This kind of blew me away when I first heard it--nothing particularly special or innovative from a "jazz technical perspective," but definitely unexpected: Glasper is playing these very idiomatic quartal harmonies, and the horns are on this young lion/80's Marsalis brothers kick. The excitement isn't so much with the content as with the fact that it's the second track on an enormous hip-hop record--and Kendrick asked for it. So much of the lexicon of jazz/hip-hop collaboration is this boring, self-conscious beast, and and it's kind of breathtaking hearing a cutting-edge MC dig into the backwaters of jazz with intention and excitement. I'd heard that Lamar's next album was supposed to be a left turn into less esoteric "hardcore" fare, and both the jazz fan and the hip-hop fan in me got hit with a wave of disappointment. To put things another way, the part of me that would like nothing better than to play a casual gig or spin Grant Green records all day is still very much happy that I could hit virtually any rehearsal or session and call for a Dilla shuffle feel without being met with blank stares. But, you know, I like Art Blakey, too.
  5. Sgcim, thanks for that--that I can wrap my head around. I admit that the implications of automization are way more convoluted than the practice of automization, and I'd imagine that most self-respecting musicians would rankle at the idea that we'd one day be replaced, wholesale, by the materials with which we're supposed to be creating. I do question the degree to which electronic instrumentation has consumed the landscape, since on an experiential and observational level I can't see live performers going anywhere any time soon. Wasn't this the fear provoked by the inception of the synthesizer? And yet I can't imagine that the historical use of mellotron is for anything other than the specific effect of synthetic strings--e.g., "Strawberry Fields Forever" or even something as esoteric as "Water Torture" on the second Mwandishi album. Even the use of the Moog by Dick Hyman or Wendy Carlos is meant to be stylized in character--those sounds posit an alternative to the piano or harpsichord rather than an outright replacement. The other big fear of mechanization is the economic issue I mention above, and I have no idea how to quantify the lasting effects of synthesizers or drum machines on the business of making music. Setting aside the other relevant factors (gentrification, streaming, etc.), isn't it true (as stated in that video that rostasi posted) that we need people to program the robots? I see an expansion in the repertoire of musical skills that are both offered and asked for across the board--people to play the synthesizers, to man the trigger pads, to program their own interfaces, and so on. And then we're back in the realm of talking about automization as a tool rather than a dictate. If folks are left cold by hip-hop--yeah, I hear that--and as a fan of a lot of hip-hop, I recognize the historical limitations of the genre and the many ways (not just musical, but also social, political, aesthetic, and soon) that it can be perceived as objectionable. The idea of the "cold steady beat," though, is fraught. The sort of icy drum sounds characterized by the 808 are still there--in trap music, electro pop, IDM, and even the more creatively nuanced, hugely theatrical alternative hip-hop that has prevailed in the past several years. That being said, even the mainstream has had a taste for and fetishization of organic drum sounds and classic R&B for a while. G-Funk was a big deal in the 90's and I don't think that much of that music has aged well outside of attitude and social relevance--the Parliament lifts on The Chronic border on cover act schlock and are more important for what they managed to do than for how they actually sound. But--and returning to the theme of instruments as tools--sampled content can sound pretty fresh and nuanced in skilled hands. I'm sure there are people here who won't dig this and/or don't get it, but J Dilla is largely responsible for disassociating beat music from quantization, and he had a panoptic knowledge of the mechanics of multiple genres--sampling at this level is as much about developing coherent, living collage as it is about providing a canvas for miscellaneous lyrical content. You can be sure that the drum feel here is thoroughly developed and calculated--from the timbres to the envelopes of the transients to the shuffle of the eighth notes to the actual drum pattern and intensity of attack: And speaking of P-Funk rips, this is what happens after Dilla's logics are thoroughly digested and reanimated in a hybrid synthetic/live context. George Clinton even shows up. The producer, fwiw, is Alice Coltrane's grand-nephew:
  6. This is the crux of this discussion. If electronic instruments (like samplers) are tools, they can be used as well or as poorly as anything else. I happen to think that the original recording of "I Just Called..." does hame some sort of musical value, but that's absolutely down to taste. The rigidity of the rhythm, the syntheticness of the production, all of those cheesy arpeggios and synthesized strings--it's absolutely overstylized. It's also horribly dated and hugely square compared to a lot of Stevie's other music. At the same time, I can appreciate the fact that it's a deliberate and assertive exercise in a particular sonic terrain. This isn't "Superstition" or "Golden Lady"--it's as overtly and intentionally stylized as the stuff on McCartney II or Let's Dance. It's fair to find the musical result repulsive while appreciating the craft, intention, and nuance behind the work. Turd it may be, but it's the kind of turd one arrives at after a substantial amount of conceptual digestion. Bad music remains bad music, good music remains good music--with allowances for taste, of course. The issue arises when condemnation of a few desultory examples of a particular conceptual practice results in a blanket dismissal of all exercises in said practice. If you want to say "I hate that stuff" or "that music isn't for me"--please, by all means. All day. At the same time, I'm deeply suspicious of sweeping statements like "all hip-hop sucks" or "the use of samplers in contemporary pop music is bad" or, yes, "The drum machine has destroyed the beauty of Black Music forever" when I find no evidence of critical engagement or dialogic nuance. For example: when I hear Sonny Simmons shit all over contemporary free jazz players, I respect that--he was there--in the trenches--for the earliest waves of free jazz and engaged firsthand with many of the practices he is on the record as having found objectionable. Other people who have gone on the record against early free jazz--guys like Roy Eldridge, for example--I wouldn't go to those folks for informed, intelligent, evenhanded opinions on the financial, social, and conceptual viability of that music. Roy may have sat in with Ornette, but there's no evidence that he took the time to study that stuff with an earnest and unbiased interest. Roy also didn't record with Marion Brown or sit in the recording booth for Ascension. That's not a knock on Roy, who was of course a legend--it's only a knock on Roy talking bigger than his frame of reference should have allowed. For what it's worth, I wouldn't go to Ornette for opinions about swing music, either.
  7. Come on, man. For real? So we're not going to address the fact that a gigantic proportion of musicians whose music might be considered "live" have worked with electronic instrumentation--and vice-versa? And we're not going to talk about how many of these musicians on both sides of the divide have moved freely between artificial studio environments and live performance (and live documentation)? No discussion about how Miles overdubbed on Miles Ahead or the studio artifice on Mingus Ah Um? Is the difference that they used live musicians? Because live musicians alone did not play the edit of Better Get Hit In Your Soul. Are we going to talk about the use of drum programming on Tutu? Bullshit, right? Because there's a sizable roster of live performers on that album. Billy Hart is on that album, for chrissakes. That record could not have been made without the cooperation of both parties. Are we going to talk about how Ali Shaheed Muhammad, the musician you dismissively refer to as "some hip-hop 'genius'", is a champion of live instrumentation in hip-hop contexts? It was Ali's idea to perform the music of Luke Cage live--he apparently wanted to do it since the project's inception: Are we going to talk about the sheer volume of albums recorded by hip-hop musicians--many of them producers who make frequent use of samplers--that rely on the integration of live performance from various genres? I'm sure you've heard a lot of these records from 16 years of listening to HOT 97. Examples: virtually everything Ali's bandmate Q-Tip has done since the end of A Tribe Called Quest--including assembling a band that featured Kurt Rosenwinkel, Gary Thomas, and Kenny Garrett--Outkast's The Love Below, everything by The Roots, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, J Dilla's Welcome 2 Detroit, almost all Beastie Boys records, Madlib's Yesterdays New Quintet albums, Flying Lotus's Cosmogramma (w/Ravi Coltrane), Chuck D and B Real with Prophets of Rage, Ice-T's Body Count records, Kanye West's use of a live orchestra on numerous recordings, Run the Jewels 2, Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly, and so on. Is the problem that the inflection of electronic music is wrong? That any playing that is either informed by or committed to the rhythmic mechanics of electronic music is somehow stiff, unswinging, or unfunky? Well cool, dude. Take it up with, again, James Brown, who bothered to work with Afrika Bambaataa on Unity--but of course that's late stage James Brown, and he'd lost his "edge" or was merely doing it for the money. In that case, let's talk about Prince, who we seem to be upholding as some gold standard of musicianship in the 1980s onward. Was drum programming too good for When Doves Cry? The minute we dispense with 1999 as a valid piece of 20th century art is the minute that a lot of people get off the boat with the "electronic music is bad" thing. If Prince is somehow--inexplicably--too archaic for this conversation, we can talk about the multitude of 21st century drummers who borrow from or are informed by the mechanics of electronic music and hip-hop. A small set of examples: Chris Dave, Tyshawn Sorey, Ronald Bruner Jr., Karriem Riggins, Dave King, Rudy Royston, Gene Lake, Zach Hill, Questlove, Damion Reid, Guillermo E. Brown. Many of these guys trade in vastly different genres of music. If you argue that all of these guys suck, you're either fooling yourself or are far too moldy for the fig tree you're on. Is the argument that all popular music after 1980 or so sucks? If so, fantastic--we've left the world of empiricism and fact and entered the realm of opinion. You're welcome to it. Alternately, if you want to get into a hyper-technical discussion about the nuances of quantization, syncopation, and feel in the hip-hop area, let's go. I have Sibelius cued up and would love to spend my weekend transcribing. If we're getting all technophobe, I can do it by hand, but I have to warn you--my notation handwriting is pretty awful. Is the argument that sampling has robbed working musicians of real jobs? That gets into dicier territory. All the same, I can think of at least half a dozen other factors that have been way more detrimental to the mechanics of being a working musician in the 21st century--including gentrification and the seemingly systematic destruction of live performance spaces in major cities, the death of the record industry and the inability to properly monetize streaming, the emergence of internet piracy and sharing, the dilution of listening options emergent to the inception of the digital age, the rise of music education as a necessary precursor to professional status (and the entry barriers at the point of enrollment), and yes--the emergence of DJs as an alternative to "live music." Keep in mind that being a DJ does not necessarily equate to playing, producing, or recording electronic music with a sampler--we're talking about a subcategory of live performance with its own specific genres and practices. Any one of these issues could easily take up a whole thread and is probably best addressed elsewhere. What is the ultimate argument here? That every time live instruments show up it's good, but every time electronic instruments show up it's bad? This is an unwinnable argument, because the universe that divides these two extremes does not exist. Again, with all due respect, please dispense with the pod people bullshit. The idea that there is no way that trained musicians can develop an appreciation for electronic sounds--not without the intervention of alien mind control--is deeply condescending and the worst kind of straw man argument.
  8. Thank you, Rostasi. A thousand times yes. I don't know why the majority of threads about music that does not emanate from a specific continuum of experience seem to end in excoriating screeds about such and such thing being ruined forever. I'm not trying to shit on anyone's opinions because--hey, opinions and feelings and experiences are very real things--but the sheer otherness of newness has a great deal of nuance if you're willing to take the time. Miles guitarist Reggie Lucas produced on Madonna's debut. Leon Ndugu Chancler played drums on Billie Jean and a bunch of really histrionic and experimental WC jazz. Arthur Blythe did the admittedly not good Put Sunshine In It but then tried to integrate that music into his concept--to some success--with Da-Da. As detailed elsewhere, David Sanborn came up around a bunch of loft jazz greats but elected to play smooth jazz. Ethan Iverson recorded with Dewey Redman almost a decade before the first Bad Plus record. Kamasi Washington comes from the same lineage of black LA jazz that Horace Tapscott once cultivated (and we could, or couldn't/shouldn't, get into the history of black jazz in LA here). Madlib's dad is a jazz singer and his uncle is Jon Faddis. Nas's dad is Olu Dara. All love to the hardened veterans who like to call bullshit on stuff, and I recognize that there is history there that is beyond me--but I haven't found much to refute that this hardline shit exists only on forums and in private debate and has minimal practical application in reality.
  9. I sense that we're getting off on parallel tracks, but a couple of notes for consideration- (1) I question both the utility and the reality of hard distinctions between the "tradition of black music" and "goose-stepping dance music." I think you'd be hard pressed to find an example of the latter that doesn't have some tangible relationship to the former. Afrika Bambaataaa and James Brown collaborated with one another. Virtually everyone Ken mentions in the above post recorded with a live band at some point or another. (2) Not all music that is aided by drum machines and other programming mechanisms operates under the kind of mechanical fixity that Bambaataa's (very important but also deeply archaic) music does. A drum machine is not "just" a tool that you program and press play on--producers dispensed with quantization as a necessary tool decades ago at this point. Samples are often performed in the studio rather than automated. Studio production that invokes sampling is not mutually exclusive from either live instrumentation or musical literacy, and the literature of this music is littered with people who are have coherent understanding of both worlds. This issue is twice as old as I am and I trust that no one on either side of this entrenchment is going to change his or her opinion at this point, but it needed to be said.
  10. As a needs to/but doesn't need to be said aside in an RIP thread, I can't really listen to Afrika Bambaataa anymore without thinking of the sexual abuse allegations--the second saddest part (the first being self-evident) being that they've cast a gigantic pall over some monumental and innovative musical contributions. As per your point, Jim--you could match the rhythms with multiple drummers but not the timbres, but that's really beside the point--it's more a matter of "why would you want to?" There are many musicians in the 21st century who trade in live approximation of less synthetic hip-hop feels--the Roots, Badbadnotgood, Glasper's projects, and so on--and it's never exactly the same thing. Conversely, there's early use of drum machines in a lot of improvised music and out jazz (not necessarily, apropos of this thread, the TR-808), and it's often for sonic effect rather than to mask the absence of acoustic textures. See:
  11. I read sgcim's comment as sarcastic (hence the "robotic overlords" thing), fwiw. Jim, as per your initial comment, I very much agree--whatever the initial application of the 808, its operative use is as a musical "tool." I think that the mechanics and sonics of archaic drum machine sounds make it virtually impossible to argue that something like the 808 is either a suitable substitute or replacement for a "real drummer"--the two entities don't correlate any more than an electric bass correlates to an upright bass... possibly less even, like the relationship between CGI and oil painting. The Zappa/Synclavier comparison is instructive but not quite the same, since the application of said instrument in Zappa's music was to perform music that was more or less unperformable at a certain time. I wish I knew more and hope to learn more about the topic, but the early application of drum machines in popular music was a little more complex--it had to do with economics as well as practical mechanical application. The kind of percussion parts you get on an early Beastie Boys or Run-D.M.C. album would have been playable by a handful of gifted percussionists in the 1980s, but you're talking about music that might be (a) manufactured in the studio for the purposes of providing perfectly looped/quantized backing for music that was largely vocal in emphasis, (b) meant to accord with the sonics of a particular sort of performance practice, and (c) often performed (either live or in the studio) by a limited number of musicians/producers. Also, consider the 1977 New York blackout that was said to have catalyzed early hip-hop--legend has it that people were looting for turntables and mixers, and not--for whatever reason--drum kits. As a total aside and not meant to reflect on any of the conversationalists here, each of whom I know deserves a great deal of respect--but while jazz as a sound and institution has my heart, very little jazz of this century has captured my imagination like the most creative music in other major genres, hip-hop and dance music included. I do think it's funny that this (very well educated and listened) jazz forum frequently lapses into discussions about the validity of decades old production techniques. It's as if we spend more time discussing what we should do rather than what we did and what we will. RIP Ikutaro.
  12. Mystery session - Grachan Moncur & Karl Berger

    I'm glad you figured it out! If nothing else, this gave me the opportunity to check out this record again.
  13. Mystery session - Grachan Moncur & Karl Berger

    I thought I recognized this--it's this: Turns out it's valve trombone. Good ear on Karl Berger--before I figured it out, I was iffy on the trombone being Moncur--but Berger was unmistakeable.
  14. Mystery session - Grachan Moncur & Karl Berger

    Berger on vibes (and not piano)? That instrumentation is quizzical, since it matches up to the Jackie McLeans and doesn't, to my recollection, recur much elsewhere. There is a Khan Jamal album from 2005 called Black Awareness that matches up, fwiw. New Wave in Jazz has a quartet w/Beaver and Cecil McBee + Bobby Hutcherson, but no alto. New Africa is a quintet date that matches ensemble size, but it's piano and not vibes. The Marion Brown Caligs have Gunter Hampel on vibes, but trumpet and not trombone. There is the seldom heard/seen Shadows from the late 70's that has both Brown and Moncur but no vibes (just piano, played by Dave Burrell). My vote would be that it's either not Moncur or not Berger, the vintage is off, or it's possibly a bootleg of some sort.
  15. Who are you just discovering?

    My personal ties to Fred notwithstanding, I think it's difficult to overstate the importance of his contribution to a certain school of free improvising. Along with Keith Rowe, Derek Bailey, Sharrock, and a couple of others, he was one of the first dedicated and significant free players on electric guitar--and he was one of only a handful of guys to emerge from that late century wild west period of sheer invention with a series of technical innovations that have had a lasting technical impact--e.g., preparation, extended techniques, mechanics that enable sustain, alternative methods of amplification, textural improvisation, and so on. On a completely different level, I don't think I've ever met another guitarist with as complete a knowledge of practical sound production on the instrument--I had detailed conversations with the guy about Clapton and Bill Frisell. Dude is legit. Fred's been touring with two really great friends of mine--bassist Jason Hoopes and Jordan Glenn (they also feature as the rhythm section for a sister band of ours--Jack O' the Clock--and I played with them in a Blood Count-type quartet called Host Family). Again, I can't listen to this music with any sort of impartiality, but some of the spaces that they get into are just in another universe. The group recalls Massacre, the heavier days of Material, and even a bit of Last Exit in a way that can't be done justice in words. They just released a record (called Another Day in Fucking Paradise):
  16. Root Down -- Jimmy Smith Live!

    I love this record, though i recognize that a lot of its cache has something to do with its status among beatmakers (esp. Beastie Boys) and rare groove collectors. The thing that sets this one apart is that there's genuine spontaneity and momentum driving the period affectations, and I feel like it's more the apotheosis of this style rather than a cash in. Paul Humphrey is fucking unbelievable throughout, for one:
  17. Who are you just discovering?

    (1) In the interest of showing up for some (actual) new music, I just heard this duo project yesterday: https://jonbafus.bandcamp.com/album/live-at-earthtone Full disclosure: Randy and Jon are friends of mine, and I'm also a huge admirer of both. Randy plays as part of the inimitable chamber improv quartet Bristle (also featuring saxophonist Cory Wright, who has been on a few of Grex's records), and Jon is drummer/leader of the Sacramento prog-punk-avant quartet Gentleman Surfer. (Gentleman Sufer is--like fellow Nor Cal band Hella--both immaculately structured and awesomely, calculatedly chaotic.) The first and simplest way in which this music strikes me is that the drums are not playing in the obvious, now rote mode of Interstellar Space-era Rashied--the music is more harried and schizophrenic than that, though not in an ironic way (ala Zorn or some of the new Dutch music). The full spectrum of ideas suggests a more hectic version of the Evan Parker/John Stevens duo, if that makes sense. The last new duo I loved this much was (Seattle band) Bad Luck, which is itself a fully realized and completely unique variation on classic late Coltrane dynamics. (2) You guys were not kidding about the Bill Barron material. Sheesh. I'm most familiar with The Tenor Stylings of Bill Barron--a record both quirky and conventional, buoyed by some deft interplay and some brief, fleeting moments of weirdness. I've also heard and own Tears for Dolphy, a record that I admit I should (and should have) spent more time with. This week I finally got around to Barron's Motivation and Curon's and The New Thing & The Blue Thing. The Curson material of this vintage can be a little formulaic, and I mean that in the classic sense--a lot of it is structured around Mingus's ensemble and rhythm dynamics, but without the pliancy or surrealism that make the Mingus quartet stuff so exceptional. As players, though, Curson and Barron are tremendous. Speaking of which, Jim is not overselling Motivation. It's that good. Barron has the rounded voice and voluptuous texture of a Texas tenor, but his phrasing and command of timbral improvisation recall Rollins or early Wayne. It is weird shit--like hearing Ayler on a Kenny Dorham record or something. The compositions, too, are genuinely strange--maybe more so for trying to accommodate the format and context of a "normal" hard bop ensemble. I think it actually suggests Joe Maneri in the superimposition of these darting, almost atonal lines over a texturally static rhythm section dynamic. It's the sound of anachronism, and it's aged hugely well--guys like Tony Malaby or even Mark Turner make bread out of music like this now.
  18. Chuck Berry R.I.P.

    That's a good call in terms of precedent, especially with Crayton--there is a very explicit relationship there in terms of phraseology and articulation: Apropos of this, an old teacher of mine told me that the thing that had gotten lost in translation with Berry's imitators and successors after the 1950's was the swing feel. A prototypical Berry rhythm part is a blues shuffle ratcheted up to a frantic tempo, and like you suggest, there's some interstitial material there with R&B and (again) jump blues and swing. There's a tendency to even out the eighth notes at fast tempi, and a couple of decades removed, the performance practice of the music is abstracted from its origins. Then you get this: And that's not a knock on Hendrix, who was his own kind of genius and the genuine article in a crowded field of fannish practitioners--it's only a commentary on the fact that, somewhere down the line, rock music-as-homage had played enough telephone to nearly divorce itself from the sort of antecedent practices and concepts were at the root of music like Chuck's. It's weird, too, because guys like Hendrix were reforging ties with jazz and entrenching themselves in blues and R&B in a classicist sense. When I say there's a wider breadth between T-Bone and Chuck than between Chuck and Hendrix, I refer more to what later rock musicians took from Chuck rather than what Chuck took from his predecessors. That's not to diminish the very clear ties with guys like Crayton--and I wish I knew more about the intermediate stages of black popular music than I do--so much as to draw attention to the fact that, like guys like Bird, the Beatles, or, yeah, Hendrix, Berry was as much (or more) the first of a new breed rather than part of a definitive continuum.
  19. Chuck Berry R.I.P.

    Sad to hear this, though (like many) astonished that he was still with us in the 21st century. I was just the other day teaching a kid how to play Johnny B. Goode, and the process illustrated to me how the basic mechanics of rock guitar have retained a kind of root integrity for over half a century now. A lot of Chuck's playing is turbocharged blues, jump blues, hillbilly, and swing vocabulary consolidated into something both faster and slicker, but there may very well be a wider berth between Chuck and, say, T Bone Walker than there is between Chuck and Hendrix. You can draw straight line from Berry to Hendrix to the MC5 to the Sex Pistols to the Pixies to Deerhoof or Queens of the Stone Age or whatever even exists right now. I know I'm playing that shit. Berry's own music is a remarkable historical achievement, but I can't fathom the notion of imprinting yourself on an instrument so completely that the basic genetics of your vocabulary get passed down to kids who don't even know your name. That's both a legacy and a service--though the capital letter Important stuff should not undercut the fact that the dude wrote and played some straight up bad shit.
  20. Misha Mengelberg RIP

    First off, RIP Misha. I have a deep love for the Dutch innovators even if I came to much of that music through other channels (particularly South African and German music with which the ICP folks shared so much interstitial material). The latter day orchestra was largely responsible for acclimating my family to the notion that their son would be playing music for a living, my mother accompanying me to (first) a handful of colorful performances at the Guelph festival and (second) a pretty daring night at Yoshi's in Oakland. I'm not sure if you could call either Misha's absurdist impulses or his penchant for sideways revivalism "populist" in any way, but I do think that these tendencies went and still go a long way toward normalizing the sometimes extremist practices of EFI. I used to play with a bass player who (in turn) used to play with Bennink, and said bass player scoffed when I used the word "virtuoso" to describe Bennink. I see where my bass player friend was coming from, but at the same time I do think that the ICP's inclination toward swing era grotesquerie and surreal showmanship does have a bit of virtuosity to it (in much the same way that Rahsaan Roland Kirk did). Again, the superimposition of hard abstraction over overt idiomatic performance does huge work reframing Dutch free improvisation and experimentalism in a way that just isn't present in, say, the contemporary English or even German music--and, in Misha's case, it does a tremendous job of making both the more "inside" and more roving moments seem weirdly (and I use that word carefully) earnest. Who's Bridge is successful in a way that a lot of other idiomatic records waxed by free improv masters are not. As for the Dolphy connection--the hookup with the Dutch guys went only so far as the shared surrealist tendencies and the extreme stretching of swing and bebop vernacular. I think the big difference is that Dolphy never really sounds comical (or, rather, that Dolphy seems extraordinarily devoid of irony), whereas the Dutch guys always sound like they have a degree of self-awareness. I do think that Dolphy's level of self-seriousness is the reason that he could record something like Out to Lunch and make it sound truly, incontrovertibly valid, but it's also the thing that fosters this tremendous divide on Last Date. When they play "Epistrophy," Dolphy is playing the distorted image of a continuum that he had some active participation in; the Dutch guys are more "talking about" that continuum, and they never really intersect so much as subsume their respective personalities into some weird compromise (e.g., "You Don't Know What Love Is"). Compare with Mingus's European recordings and the tonal distinction is remarkable--Dolphy is actually something close to humorous in Mingus's music, and I think it's because both Dolphy and Mingus are able to engage with a degree of anger and caustic wit that probably had something to do with, well, being a Black American of a certain era.
  21. I agree that it's a bit of a false equivalency to the degree that the investment in recording inputs isn't quite the same thing as spending on recording output, but I do hear what Chuck is saying, at least in a private press/self-release sense. A digital only release where the musicians are the initial investors (i.e., you're not paying session fees because the artists are fronting the bread) can be done for pennies on the dime today. You can get professional level 2 track recording + digital mastering for under $600. After that, straight to bandcamp. If you're using bandcamp pro ($10/mo) you can even send out digital review copies without having to pay postage. The only unaccounted for expenses in this scenario are (1) time (including rehearsal/practice time and/or facility rental, though many working musicians will have already invested in one or the other) and (2) any possible design work. As a longtime fan of classic free jazz/improvised music/creative music--and as an active participant in contemporary music that shares a lot of interstitial material with the classic stuff in question--I think that it's important to consider the degree to which things like press and historical fetishization alter our perspective on what constitutes a successful recording. I hear a lot of terrible improvised music these days but also a lot of truly extraordinary stuff that virtually no one--by virtue of geography, listener interest or initiative, and (again) press--will ever get to hear. I know that it's sort of stock-in-trade for musicians to champion their regional communities, but I've been in and out of love with the practice of this music for decades now and I will gladly throw relatively untouted WC artists like Wiener Kids, Black Spirituals, Bad Luck, Beep!, Francis Wong and the like up against absolutely anything recorded in the past several decades barring the upper tier of material by acknowledged masters. Records like Nonaah or Derek Bailey's Aida are still pretty untouchable in their genres, but it's (again) important to consider that new musicians are trying and have been trying to generate new genres every day for the past, I don't know, eternity.
  22. I've been spending less and less time with archival and historical releases these days, and this record is most certainly one for niche interests (i.e., for those interested in South African/Euro free jazz and/or the extended Ogun roster of musicians, there are like a dozen or so records that I'd recommend before this one). That being said, this is a good one--more satisfying than volume one and maybe even better than a lot of the "canon" material that has been available since the 70's and 80s. The sound quality is superb and a lot of the content here is unique to this set--unusual personnel, as many as three unique compositions (I need cross check the three tunes from '78), and sessions that I haven't seen pop up elsewhere. There's one tune from '77 that has been in circulation for a while (the band with Miller, Louis Moholo-Moholo, Trevor Watts, Alan Wakeman, and Bernie Holland), but the others seem more or less new--three tunes from '78 with Miller, Moholo-Moholo, Watts and Wakeman again, and Keith Tippett and three tunes from '82 with Miller, Moholo-Moholo, Watts again, Alan Tomlinson, and Dave Holdsworth. For obscure Euro free improv nerds, the '78 session is special because it was recorded pretty close to both Moholo's Spirits Rejoice and Miller's In Conference, and the rhythm section is the same (i.e., Miller/Moholo/Tippett). This is in some regards my favorite rhythm section of all time in any medium (especially on the '78 dates), and the playing here is of a pretty high caliber. Everyone is in terrific shape, but Moholo-Moholo was an absolute beast at this vintage--this perfect blend of pocket jazz drumming, blustery free jazz, and impossible funkiness. There's a special kind of beauty to Moholo's cymbal work in the late 70's (a particular timbre to his crash or ride, I haven't seen too many pictures documenting it) that is absolutely unique in the canon; when I interviewed him years ago, he spoke about the lack of cymbal work on typical urban mbaqanga recordings, and a lot of his playing in the 70's is almost obsessively cymbal centric. The only thing in the canon akin to this level of textural fanaticism is later Sunny Murray, but Moholo in the 70's had a degree of versatility and unstoppable technical power that just shades many of his American counterparts. This is a thing that is often ignored in conversations about the divide between "high" post-bop/early free jazz drumming and full blown European free improvisation--only a handful of drummers had both the chops and the psychology to bridge the two, and Moholo was one of them--a technically adept straight ahead drummer with an ear for timbral exploration. As sort of a Blue Notes stan for many years, I admit that I've been disappointed by a lot of the archival releases from this stable subsequent the explosion of Cuneiform stuff several years back. The Reel Recordings stuff is kind of all over the place and much of the sound quality is lacking. The "new" Oguns--especially the Moholo combos with board member Alexander Hawkins--have been pretty good, but a lot of the old stuff has been kind of redundant (the first volume in this series was like the umpteenth set of the same Isipingo compositions). Not this one--based on its pedigree and the rarity of the material, I might even call it a "sub-classic," better than a lot of the other new music released this year (alongside a slew of "contemporary" stuff--A Tribe Called Quest's We Got It From Here..., Danny Brown's Atrocity Exhibition, Kendrick Lamar's Untitled Unmastered, etc.). For the five people who are interested, this is about as good as it gets for music of this kind.
  23. Two recollections come to mind--(1) Roscoe Mitchell said that Ayler was the loudest saxophonist he'd ever heard, apropos of a conversation he and a friend of mine were having about Coltrane, and (2) an old friend of mine saw Ayler in person in NY in the early 60's--when I quizzed him about which album best captured Ayler's sound, my friend said (almost instantly) "Spiritual Unity."
  24. Rudy Van Gelder interview from 1995

    I think it's worth considering that the ideas of documentation, the presentation of art as product, and the act of producing art are not (necessarily) mutually exclusive. I don't think that there's any singular, comprehensive praxis for how music is created in a given social, cultural, or economic context. There's no news there--but in terms of the notion that "all art is commerce"--well yes, but by levels and degrees. Not all commercial music is made with strictly commercial considerations. Not all--or even any--non-commercial (or outsider, or experimental, or avant-garde, or what have you) art is created in a vacuum devoid of monetary considerations. One of the chief arguments in the ongoing debate about musicians v. promoters/clubs/etc. is that performance comprises services rendered and that this should (in and of itself) guarantee pay of some kind. The rub here is that not all music operates under the same social and commercial pretenses. If you're running a low/mid-sized commercial establishment, you're often guaranteed more patrons for hosting a touring band rather than a local band. For any number of reasons, you can often (but not always) expect a larger audience for electronic dance music than free jazz. So is it fair and economically sound under profit-driven conditions to treat free jazz the same way you would EDM, or a local musician the same as a touring band? If you book these musicians under the pretense that you will make money, is it fair to expect a free jazz musician to promote the show effectively enough to bring in numbers that equate to that of a DJ? Trade is a two way street. The degree to which working musicians are conscious participants in the broader art and entertainment economies is pretty debatable, but often (admittedly not always) you, as a performer, must make some decision about the content and value of your musical practices. As Serious As Your Life is not just a sad story about a bunch of great guys who never got paid for their work--it's (also) a narrative about musicians who made hard, often deliberate choices about their relationship(s) to commerce and audiences.
  25. Rudy Van Gelder interview from 1995

    YUP. In a crowded field of convergent jazz/hip-hop, I've been a little less impressed by hip-hop inflected jazz than I have been jazz inflected hip-hop. In its best self, self-conscious fusion music (i.e., music that is a fusion of genres--I don't mean 70's jazz-rock in a specific sense) elucidates the things that make its source material so exciting. Listening to Yesterday's New Quintet is like the closest thing a jazz musician will ever come to hearing what jazz music sounds like to an untrained/unschooled ear--which is not to say that Madlib's music is illiterate or anything (far from it), only that the things that it places value in tend to be grounded in a musical sensibility that emanates from outside of jazz. For example--I love the Reuben Wilson version of "Stormy," but Madlib's version is the one that teases out this mammoth, growling beast, the rhythm foregrounded and the melodic content scurrying around the stereo field like ants. I would never have gotten that out of that, which is why listening to YNQ is a really enriching experience for me.