ep1str0phy

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Everything posted by ep1str0phy

  1. Musicians/nice guys (or gals)

    To what Chuck said, I'll never stop being astounded by the degree to which some of "the cats" will go out of their way to make neophytes feel welcome. Roscoe Mitchell, Fred Frith, Myra Melford, Muhal Richard Abrams, Bobby Bradford, Andrew Hill, Oliver Lake, Francis Wong, Jon Jang, Lewis Jordan, Vinny Golia, Alex Cline, and a handful of others whom I've very irresponsibly "forgot" at the moment were all making valuable music decades (some roughly a half century) ago and must rank as some of the most decent professionals I've ever met. These were guys I grew up listening to, and they're all amazing folks now that I've passed onto the other side of the river. A special shoutout/tribute to guys like Roscoe, Fred, and Myra, with whom I was fortunate enough to study at length--I feel like it's important for artists who exist on the fringes to communicate not only practical skills but also a degree of philosophy. Those three--and folks like Francis, since we work together pretty frequently--were/are exceptional leaders for the fact that they make the people they are working with feel like their contributions are both necessary and important. For all the talk I hear about musicians haranguing/shaming their underlings into "greatness"--and we fetishize this in jazz culture, to a degree--it's really important to consider that you can achieve similar goals just by teaching your students both a measure of responsibility and the value of hard work.
  2. Prince is dead

    Popular v. unpopular debate aside, one of the chief reasons that the showmanship v. non-showmanship thing sticks in my craw is because the whole "just sit down and play" thing doesn't apply with equal meaning to all kinds of music. Physical animation will not mean the same thing if you are playing a Paganini Concerto, a barwalking saxophone solo, or Hendrixian histrionics, respectively--and that's twofold. On the one hand, certain gestures have certain coded meanings inside of certain contexts. Yes, if Bill Evans got up in the middle of a piano solo and started thumping on the keys with his foot, it would be absolutely asynchronous with his art--not to mention a breach of conduct within his likely performance context. The Ruby Braff quote Ted offers a couple of posts up is pretty pointed, however--there are plenty of great musicians who might not be considered great performers, but modes of performance are greatly variable. Even many of the folks we might consider "austere" or "formal" engaged with codes and practices that carried a lot of weight in certain areas: for example, Coltrane was pretty serious about the whole band wearing suits and ties for a time--a way, in part, to tie his nascent art music into respectability practices more closely tied to the concert hall. (There are other sociopolitical things tied into that, too, and maybe someone else here is better equipped to deal with all that than I--maybe even a whiff of post-Nation of Islam code of public conduct, but that may be pretty specious.) On the other hand, watch virtually any video of mature/late Trane--he absorbed plenty of the exaggerated physical mannerisms of the Texas barwalking/freak-out tenor tradition. He did not stand still. Hell, find the extant videos of Ayler--he's literally jumping up and down half of the time. Finally, returning to the clothing thing, when the Miles band eschewed the suit and tie thing, it was most certainly and overtly to tap into the performance psychology of what was then youth music--and whether or not these practices actually negatively or positively affected his music has to be tied, in part, to your appreciation of electric Miles and/or the phenomenon of electricity in jazz in general. Here's the part two of the twofold thing, and it's way more important for me as a performer or musician--the execution of a lot of these coded practices often has very deliberate musical effects. The obvious example is Hendrix. There is this perplexing (to me) psychology that, if you're performing guitar stagecraft with maximum efficiency, it should not leave any sonic artifacts. This suggests a physical/sonic divide that is just not present in the continuum of black music--or, rather, not present in the same way. It's a hop, skip, and a jump away between screaming so hard that you're chording (e.g., JB) and playing guitar with your teeth. If any of y'all are practicing singers, you know that screaming is a physical and potentially harmful phenomenon--it can be done dozens of different ways and to varying degrees of practicality and safety. All the same, each of these methods have different sounds and inflections--a spectrum that encompasses, yes, Prince, the Pixies' Black Francis, and Diamanda Galas. Similarly, the process of playing guitar with your teeth is so chaotic and circumstantial in character (just A/B the fifty legal versions of Hendrix's "Hey Joe" for perspective) that it can't help but leave sonic artifacts--it's tied to the kind of guitar you're using, the shape of your teeth, your relative volume, your effects chain (if any), etc. etc. The point is, not only do many of these physical gestures have sonic effects, but (1) sometimes the fundamental chaoticism of these effects is desired, if not imperative, and (2) you can learn how to control these effects with some level of practice and consistency. Study your Hendrix, if so inclined--watch an arch performance like the one at Monterey or even something slightly tireder like the Berkeley stuff from 1970. It's not just bullshit stagecraft. Playing with your teeth, behind your head, behind your back, grazing the strings with your elbow, masturbatory glissandi, showy divebombs with the tremolo bar, etc. etc.--every single one of those gestures produces a sound (whether it means just rearranging your body or actually striking the strings), and when you're cranked up to volume levels where the feedback is absolutely explosive, every one of those sounds is magnified tenfold. If you're good enough (like a Prince, or Buddy Guy), you learn how to incorporate these songs into your vocabulary--if you're great at it (like I'd argue Hendrix was), they become such a seamless part of your sonic universe that people think you're just fooling around. Anyway, people tend to shit all over showmanship and stagecraft because--and they're often right--they sometimes have nothing to do with how the music is produced. This is not unilaterally correct, and (there's a deeper debate/discussion to be had about this) I get the sense that a lot of the debate has to do with instances of severe culture clash, misapprehension, and (in the worst cases, of which I'd assume absolutely no one here is guilty) stuff like racism and cultural erasure.
  3. Prince is dead

    This is funny but it's also very, very real. If you really want to talk negative energy, I used to work with a musician who would engender confrontation with the audience--just set out to play the loudest, most irascible shit possible with zero regard for audience accessibility. Like you say, there's a whole ethos of outsiders who operate under these pretenses, and it's rooted in these cases in a paradoxical sense of belonging. The guy I'm talking about, however, would play in this way in a preemptive attempt to rationalize the disdain of the audience--i.e., "They're going to hate me anyway, so I'm going to hate them first." The thing is, working in and around both jazz and experimental music(s), I run into a lot of folks like this and I would struggle to name anyone who didn't get hurt by the prospect of audience apathy. The simplified version of this is that no one really wants to be disliked, let alone hated. Unfaltering devotion to high-minded aesthetic ideals and a deep-rooted desire to be loved are sometimes compatible, sometimes mutually exclusive. Negotiating the tension between "compatible" and "incompatible" is treacherous. I have actually seen this drive people mad. I find it fascinating that late 20th century jazz has this intense preoccupation with the dynamic between musicians and critics when I've always felt that this relationship was fundamentally solipsistic. Does anyone actually sit on stage and say, "Man, the critics will love this"--or rather, "History is going to evaluate my contributions so generously." (Actually, yes, but only so long as we're talking about madmen.) "Art music" and "pop music" are only really different things insofar as the strategies for communication (or lack thereof) differ. While I'm the last person who will vouch for the notion that more audience = better, I definitely disagree with the argument that less audience = best. I mean, do whatever you're going to do and hope for whatever you want to hope for, but take your lumps if you made your bed in them. If you want to be unabashedly crass, don't complain when you have millions of fans but no one takes you seriously. If you want to play music for both yourself and only a handful of dedicated colleagues and listeners, steel yourself for the inevitability that you may very well just get what you want.
  4. Prince is dead

    I mean, I will say this--this is the only recent context within which I've heard people having a critical discussion of Prince as a looming musical figure (whatever your personal stance on what he does), which has to count for something. Shit gets heated but it definitely isn't and shouldn't be personal. In terms of the everything v. nothing discussion a little ways above, I think I'm happiest interfacing with art that engenders strong reactions--because, more often than not, these reactions are rooted in the love of something. In terms of the "insipid ballads" and "funk/dance" song thing--maybe this is just a party line issue, but I've seen this crop up a lot in and among discussions among both musicians and aficionados. Without presuming anything about anyone else's listening habits, sometimes it's a question of quality, sometimes it's a question of the fundamental viability (or, in an opposite sense, disposability) of a given genre. Sometimes we're asked to listen past the idiomatic and temporal trappings of a given work--like how electric Ornette is still Ornette, even at Prime Time's most anonymous or insipid, or how the classic rock iconography of early Hendrix sort of obfuscates a degree of spontaneity and improvisational freshness that is a lot closer to Coltrane than, say, Eric Clapton. It's not always possible, but I wonder if we shouldn't listen to all music like this. Sometimes surface is just surface, but sometimes the codes therein are just so complex that they look like absolutely nothing. For example: the phrase "it's time for jazz to die" on "All the Critics Love U in New York." That song feels surface-y to me in a way that some of the others don't--it's kind of ironic/mock-spiteful but also aspirational but also kind of self-inflating, etc.--sort of like an unecstatic "Are You Experienced." That being said, there is a lot of text there. Prince is talking about critical reception to his music, addressing the baby boomer fallout, and even/sort-of winking at the burgeoning jazz wars of the 80's. The vocal's monotonous self-cheerleading overlays some cutting-edge experimentalism, from the post-Hendrixian/Ray Russell-esque guitar to the Laswellian industrial funk. I'm not even sure that Prince knew who Ray Russell was--I mean, probably not, all things considered--but this is part of the kaleidoscopic appeal of his music--it can seem numbing and facile, but it's so deft that somehow manages to suggest things that aren't even there. Also, how many major pop stars of the past few decades have cared enough about jazz to adjudicate over its life and death? You don't throw a phrase like that into a song that detailed and dense without having it mean something. On the one hand, it's the obvious: let's move onto something else, let's revise the revolution, etc. On the other hand, Prince is interfacing with a vast lineage of composers and improvisers who have rejected both jazz as a term and method of categorization--a group that includes, hey, Duke Ellington. You can read, say, Albert Ayler similarly. On the one hand, it's a lot of freaking noise. On the other hand, we're talking about a profound dimension of spontaneous interplay, textural control, and technical ingenuity overlaying a compressed simultaneity of gospel music, rural blues, R&B saxophone, bebop, and so on. Obviously Ayler does not equal Prince--they're doing very different things--but if we are (again) evaluating music on the merits and preferences of mass consumption or a lack thereof, is that on Ayler and Prince, or is it on us? Moreover, I'd hasten to consider whether or not Prince as an inherently postmodern (or maybe post-postmodern) artist didn't ask the same questions of himself, his peers, and his forebears. Yes, it's a lot of insipid funk--but Ayler was a lot of freaking noise, Hendrix was a lot of drugged out BS, and Ornette was "jiving." Or maybe it's just down to taste and the biology of the ear, in which case--hey, do what you like.
  5. Prince is dead

    America and/or the world can be wrong about one thing and right about something else. The dereliction of the masses with regard to the proper or expected treatment of any number of artistic masters more or less "is what it is." JJ is dead. Bird is dead. Ornette is dead. Ayler is dead. Horace Tapscott, John Carter, Dudu Pukwana, Skip James, Blind Willie Johnson, Albert King, dead--also: David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Easy-E, and now Prince. The only thing that all of these guys had in common was creative impetus. Categorization is down to us. I do call unequivocal bullshit--and will likely continue to do so until the day I die--on the whole undervalued = better/overvalued = worse continuum of thought. The converse is also not necessarily true. Fame chasing is an ouroboric endeavor that can consume and diminish absolutely anyone. I don't think, however, that accessibility and/or a concerted bid for mainstream appreciation and credibility equates to artistic bullshit. If we're weighing the value of "past giants" by how much they mean and to whom, then there is a universe where JJ Johnson and Prince are both worthwhile and in very different ways. If we're saying that we as musicians or experts or critics somehow have a greater access to what does or doesn't make something worthwhile, then I call bullshit. I also call unequivocal bullshit on the whole austerity = prestige/animation = simple tricks and nonsense thing. I don't know where the fuck this comes from, other than a dilapidated and anachronistic sense of artistic integrity that is rooted in Western concert music and white collar aesthetics. So suddenly Prince (or Jimi Hendrix, or Buddy Guy, or, say, Rahsaan Roland Kirk) is suddenly < Wes Montgomery because the latter sat still while he played? Did I miss the class in music school on how real musicians are supposed to sit still, keep their heads down, and avoid theatrics, or is this another one of those bygone virtues that the kids can leave behind when they get off the proverbial lawn? Must we look sharp and austere? Or should Ornette, Miles, and Don Cherry have left their wardrobes at home? Let me put this another way--let's live in a universe where Prince did whatever he did out of aphroditic necessity--for free, to no acclaim, and zero recognition. Everything else, save of course the savvy and extreme live shows (which are $$$), is more or less the same. Is this still bullshit? If Sonic Youth and JJ Johnson get put on postage stamps and Prince vaporizes into nothingness, are we living in the best possible universe? Have we blown up the Death Star? Did we stop Hitler before he happened? Or are we just trading one shit sandwich for another?
  6. You're right--that was a flip, offhand example on my part, and it doesn't hold water. That being said (and this is probably obvious), but getting reviewed in Pitchfork isn't really my point. Kamasi is playing Coachella and (less exciting but still remarkable in Bay Area terms) Noise Pop. It would be an unbelievable and improbable coup for Matthew Shipp to play a festival like that. (And I'd be very pleased if I'm wrong about this and somehow someone like Shipp has made it onto this circuit.) Let me pose an earnest question, since I'm really curious what informed, diehard jazz fans and musicians have to say about it (and not for the purposes of drinking the Kool-Aid one way or another): what would it take for Kamasi to be ok? I get it--the press and acclaim are disproportionate to his contribution to the canon. So to expand on the question above: who would be an "ok" alternative to Kamasi? Is the issue that this prefab messiah isn't "good enough," or that we neither need nor want one? Would it allay our collective internal frustration if we were talking about Meltframe or Break Stuff in lieu of The Epic? For my part, I would love to see critical and musical consensus crown a "next Coltrane"--in part because of the obvious musical considerations, in part because I've grown increasingly weary of contemptuousness. Every time someone like Kamasi spills into mainstream consciousness (The Bad Plus, Badbadnotgood, VIjay Iyer, etc. etc.), the jazz community will be quick to say, "This has been done before, but better." At the same time--and like clockwork--we see articles, blog posts, Facebook rants, etc. about jazz's dwindling audience and economic unviability. Jazz culture is protective of its past in a way that is depressingly compatible with its own ossification and obsolescence. It's "ok" to hold the opinion that the Bad Plus are hacks for playing pop tunes, but it's completely self-defeating to then complain when Ethan Iverson attempts to engage with Billy Hart in a straightahead context. I've seen people herald obviously talented folks like Mary Halvorson or Tyshawn Sorey as next generation masters, but a big part of this has to do with deep and apparent connections to folks like Braxton, Roscoe, and Steve Coleman. Kamasi's music emanates from the same community that fostered the UGMAA's music. We complain when Kamasi plays Tapscott-ian jazz, but not when Halvorson engages with Braxtonian conceits? So I ask again--not in a rhetorical sense, but because I want to learn--what would it take for Kamasi to be ok? What are we waiting for, and is there a way that we can expedite the future for the art form/music that we want? Or have we (even more depressing, especially for young musicians) just a reached a point where we're circling the drain and someone uses the wrong plug?
  7. I think it's important to note that the real estate that Kamasi presently occupies has almost nothing to do with the press (or lack thereof) given to the likes of Roscoe, Evan Parker, etc. Discussion of The Epic is often accompanied by intra-community hand-wringing about the economic, social, and cultural viability of jazz as an art form, when the marketing and performance of Kamasi's recent music has happened largely outside of traditional "jazz" channels. I don't think this is an instance of crossover success so much as it is a presentation of jazz tropes and ideas within the context of pop music infrastructure. I mean, he's on Brainfeeder (Flying Lotus's label). I imagine the marketing of this record isn't so different from something like FlyLo's "You're Dead!"--a legacy musician engaging with decades old mechanics, imbuing said mechanics with a modern sheen and nods to the zeitgeist. Actual crossover success--like getting an earnest Pitchfork review of a new Matthew Shipp album or something like that--is something else entirely, and it is absolutely beyond the scope of most of jazz's deeply insular promotional schema. As others have noted, interpenetration is virtually impossible without some external stimulus. Consider the notion that few people in the mainstream knew about Nels Cline before he joined Wilco. I trust that similarly few would have had impetus to listen to Kamasi prior to To Pimp A Butterfly. Putting this another way: it's arguable that the success of Star Wars did little to affect the mainstream popularity of Akira Kurosawa's movies outside of film students and hardcore fans. As someone who loves both Star Wars and Kurosawa, I recognize that the monumental success of the former in the West doesn't have anything to do with the lack of recognition for, say, Ikiru or Stray Dog. There's some mutual exclusivity at play--but, more importantly, we're talking about two different (but parallel) "things" made in different ways by different people for totally different audiences. "We" can still have our Sonny Rollins Village Gate boxed sets, and it's probably true that the existence of The Epic will neither negate nor reinforce this.
  8. Modern/Avant New Releases: A running thread

    Well, again--I agree it's fruitless to compare folks who have attained this sort of "master seniority" status with the younger people in the trenches, but then (and I feel like this is implicit in both your statement and Clifford's) I feel like the methods of evaluating contemporary free jazz and free improvisation have very little to do with "traditional" jazz criticism or listening. If you can't use Roscoe or Braxton (or, for that matter, Boulez, or Luigi Nono, or Bach, etc.) as some sort of "objective" criteria, according to what standard are we even receiving this music right now? Speaking to what you said (i.e., "and which is shaped to address the very kinds of questions you raise")--I feel like this in some way applies to all contemporary experimental music insofar as that music participates in this lineage that can be traced back to early free jazz and 20th century new music (whether that be the New York School, Darmstadt, or whatever). We're officially living in a "post" era, and this is evident in not only explicitly postmodern improvised music (from the likes of Zorn or Eugene Chadbourne--going on like four decades worth, at this point) but also with folks like Laubrock, Mary Halvorson, Tyshawn Sorey, Vijay Iyer, etc. etc. So in a way, it's unfair to compare this music to the undiluted restructuralism of an Ornette (or, for that matter, a Braxton or Roscoe). At the same time, this is what I meant (above) about stuff like the burden of history. Like Clifford (very acutely) says, being a thirty year old jazz musician in 2015 is nothing like it was in the 60's or 70's. We're not only confronted with the burden of creating anything new, but we're also struggling with the responsibility of accumulated knowledge. Improvisers coming up now are forced to deal with a glut of sorted information that is easy to access. The challenge is in digesting, reconstituting, and re-creating. So yes, it's absolutely unfair to compare Laubrock with Braxton, because the social and cultural inputs are very different. At the same time, there is no explicit model for the music of the 21st century. It is either/both being created or has not been created yet. It is somehow "not enough" to be a Braxton clone, but I'm hard pressed to identify many new creative modalities in the lineage of jazz improvisation since the 1980's--and, moreover, thirtysomethings don't have a Bird, Coltrane, Braxton, or even Steve Coleman to rally around. Kamasi Washington is 34 and (by reputation--on these boards) is adding nothing new to the Coltrane continuum. Vijay Iyer is 44 years old and an icon of sorts, but even he is often preoccupied with digesting the repertoire and rhythmic mechanics of much older music. This plays more directly into what Allen says (and thank you for the kind words, Allen)--I think it really is up to contemporary improvisers to create their own frame(s) of reference. In a self-critical and peer-critical sense, however, I feel like the possibilities therein are absolutely endless, and I also hear so few people who are willing to push their own boundaries in really exciting--maybe stupid, maybe unsuccessful, but also creative--ways. I think that the jazz continuum (in a historical sense, if not a technical sense) is still alive and densely populated with very talented players and composers--but I also think that it hasn't pushed itself hard and wild enough in the 21st century for it to have had any big, "boundary breaking" moments.
  9. Modern/Avant New Releases: A running thread

    Actually, I'm saying that she does use climaxes in that way--or at least she did in this video. In the examples I cited, the multiphonics/skronk happen at the literal climax of the piece(s)--they both end shortly thereafter. I agree, though, that it's fruitless to be setting up Laubrock as some sort of straw person to rage against--she's too good of a player doing work that is much too interesting. The issue to me is more the broad strokes, as you mention--the nature of repetition, its place in improvised music, and the role of composition and tradition in offsetting (or possibly reinforcing) predictability. I agree that Messrs. Frith, Mitchell, and Braxton all repeat themselves a lot, but the nature of this repetition is fluid. To paraphrase Ornette, it's ok to repeat yourself, but you have to mean something different every time. Part of the nature of improvisation in the advent of the AACM and EFI is the organization and (sort of) codification of technical knowledge--there's a little bit of this in Forces in Motion, and it's a little more thorough in the Tri-Axium Writings (I know about this firsthand from Frith and Mitchell because, as I can't seem to shut up about, I studied under both of them). Guys of this caliber are hardly the only purveyors of "good" applied technical knowledge, but the difference I see is a degree of consistency, facility, and surprise in their ability to apply a set of recurrent tools to different contexts. For example--there's a pretty fixed shape to most versions of Nonaah--it's a loose sonata form that tends to get organized into statement/subdued improvisation/explosive improvisation. The tools that Roscoe has used have surely varied over time, and even the motivic material is different from performance to performance (the infamous solo Nonaah on Nessa doesn't really sound like the Art Ensemble version, and the chamber, guitar, and sax quartets all sound different). I think this is kind of the point. Even though the macro processes are sort of fixed, the actual content is widely variable. When I listen to an iteration of Nonaah, I'm hearing the gradations of difference within the nexus of two entities (i.e., Roscoe and the composition "Nonaah.") In other words, the same information "means" something different every time. As you note, there's something fundamentally hazardous about improvising in general, and even those who avoid rote forms of "technical application" will have to take other creative risks. I rage against the "aggressive climax" thing discussed above because it's easy and a little manipulative, and this really comes from the part of me who strives for creative spontaneity but sometimes/often succumbs to the lure of easy gestures. This plays into a broader conversation that I've had with a few folks on this board in the past few years, which is something like, "If you can't say it your own way, what is the point of saying it?" This is most definitely where composition comes in for many folks, and I think this is also what makes a guy like Roscoe tick: the improvisation is predicated on either explicit compositional organization or a compositional sensibility. On an extremist/personal level, I don't think there is any point to composing for an improviser other than to provide information that will help shape or reframe said improviser's playing. Returning to my aimless rant above, this is why I love Out to Lunch so much--it's the only one of Dolphy's recordings to sound like that, and (as such) it's maybe our only window into a very particular aspect of Dolphy's genius. Out There, Last Date, The Illinois stuff, the Five Spot stuff, etc. are all excellent--but on Out to Lunch, Dolphy sounds less like a piquant iconoclast and more like an extraordinary harmonic voice (suddenly) in command of his element.
  10. Modern/Avant New Releases: A running thread

    I want to preface this by saying that (1) I'm multitasking like an idiot and arranging the Star Wars theme for a guitar quartet, so this may come out addled, and (2) I actually have no issue with Laubrock's playing--my sentiments above were largely just addressing what (as Allen notes) seems to be some (possibly vague) causal relationship between the vestiges of jazz showmanship and an undercurrent of predictability in energy saxophone. I also want to preface these sentiments by saying that I have nothing but respect for Rainey and Laubrock as both improvisers and technicians, and there's a ton of nuance, ebb and flow to the video I link to above. I actually saw this duo at a local series in Oakland not too long ago, and it was quite strong. Also, I have admittedly mixed feelings about dissecting an improvisation as a "finished" work of art, since--while I acknowledge that this is kind of a necessary practice for anyone who improvises these days--too much of this is what led me to work and think in alternate idioms for the bulk of my adult life. Also, I'm too young and fresh to be an expert at this, but I am "in the shit"--so: That being said, if you identify the aspects of this (live, not for the record) duo performance that stand out as particularly unique or conceptually enticing, you (the universal "you," not David or Allen or anyone in particular) will probably argue for the interstitial material at around 5:00 or the beginning of the second improv. As far as I'm concerned, this is because it disabuses itself of any sort of thanatal urge to "complete" itself--it's exploratory and fundamentally textural in nature, and the sorts of effects that these cats are getting (I'm thinking of the really articulate cymbal work at the beginning of improv #2, paired with the really pithy melodic abstractions--around 12 mins or so) can ride for hours. As a free improviser, this is meat. You know how you sometimes go to three deep concerts--excellent bills--but the headliner is just in another universe? That's akin to the feeling I get when listening to someone like Fred Frith, Roscoe Mitchell, or Braxton--eminent patience, control, and comprehension of both short game details and long form organization. If you listen to Roscoe's less frequently discussed solo work--like the vaporous and seemingly incessant The Flow of Things, or his actual "solo" records--there's a striking obliviousness to the sort of "overt" signaling you can identify in, say, an Eric Clapton solo. You know when Clapton (even/especially early Clapton--of the still very good Cream vintage) is going for the kill shot. Roscoe may be playing a lot of stuff for a long period of time, but he is 99% of the time absolutely unpredictable--or when he is (like on the epic Ohnedaruth solo on Phase One), it's so immaculately and unconventionally paced that it doesn't matter that you could see the end coming from a mile away. Contrast this with Laubrock at around 8:30 or around 24 minutes. The build up is very obviously telegraphed. There's a lot of motivic and melodic information flying by really fast, and this type of playing is not easy to do--but it is arguably predictable, and anyone who listens to a ton of this music can detect this phenomenon when it's happening. Keep in mind that the improvs/pieces end not long after the markers I noted--it's just a hair away from "the end is near, guys--big finish!" (I will say that Rainey is obviating this with some really crazy shit in that second example in particular--most guys would probably just go into full barrel Rashied Ali mode at that point--but Rainey is a fucking pro.) Again, these are just my impressions, and Rainey and Laubrock are top drawer technicians as far as this sort of thing is concerned--so who am I to talk? I will, however, note that sitting through hour after hour after hour of free music that follows parameters of predictability--the same endings, the same interstitial textures, the same cymbal harmonics, the same episodes of altissimo ecstasy--can be absolutely numbing. It's just as whack as listening to lame straightahead jazz, and the music is (arguably) just as conventional. At this point in my life, I'd rather listen to either total chaos or someone who just refuses to play by the basic rules--i.e., masters in this form (like Roscoe, or guys like Weasel, whose music is fucking nuts and very cognizant of the sort of ennui that I mention.)
  11. Modern/Avant New Releases: A running thread

    Not to bogart this conversation, but some of the guys who might fit this description: the aforementioned David Murray, Pharoah, Frank Wright, Noah Howard, Peter Brotzmann, Willem Breuker, Wayne Shorter circa the Jazz Messengers, Jim Pepper, sometimes Michael Brecker, and Jon Irabagon. I have a few really good friends and playing partners (at least semi-well known) who fall into this category. The thing is, I actually like all of these guys and I'd venture to say that many of the folks on here do, too (I mean, a huge chunk of Ascension and Machine Gun are predicted on this kind of thing)--it really does just come down to context in a lot of circumstances. On the polar opposite end of the spectrum, Arthur Doyle heats up almost instantly and strays in these ungodly frequencies for like forever. Repent-era Charles Gayle, too. I know Doyle has gotten a ton of flak on these boards, but I actually admire the guy for how much of a diehard he is. In other words, part of me feels like if you're listening to Black Ark for a meticulously constructed Wayne solo--or even something more incendiary, albeit with supreme technical control (ala Roscoe Mitchell)--you're better served just digging into something else.
  12. Modern/Avant New Releases: A running thread

    Well, manipulative showboating and general ennui are two completely different improvisers' problems. As per what Steve said, Murray gets brought up pretty frequently w/regard to overly emotive/overripe soloing, though I'm actually a fan of this approach in context; Murray's soloing is often "aside from the point" in that it's framed by these vaguely neo-classicist arrangements. I see Murray as a pseudo-curator in a way--he has a Zornian knack for assembling these unbelievable bands that he just happens to be shunted into. Dudu Pukwana is a player of much higher repute in improv circles (admittedly, one of my favorite altos) who operates in a similar fashion--the difference is that he manages to deconstruct these sorts of overheated blues inflections into solo constructions that might be considered circuitous or even non-narrative. The overall effect can be pretty shocking: I love Pukwana's solo (the second horn solo--IIRC, both Tchicai and Pukwana are playing alto on this one) because it's comprised of all of these clipped, decontextualized jump blues and mbaqanga phrases. There's even this gaping hole before the tutti/shout chorus thing. There is no linear objective here--it's just perpetually there--not building, not receding, just there. It's a harsh, bloody version of what Dolphy was doing with these more meticulously constructed, tonally complex solos. This is the reason that, despite the very specific inflections and mannerisms, I could listen to the Blue Notes guys for literally hours at a time. Contrast this with what we talked about above. I've heard/read Allen rage about a lot of contemporary improvisers, and while I could never speak on his behalf and probably don't understand the full throttle of it, I can get to a lot of what he's saying. Sometimes there's the overripe soloing, but it's framed within these weakly constructed, relentlessly non-dynamic burnout improvs. Murray does this some times--thirty or so minutes of "troughs and valleys," this relentless cycle of peaking and recession. Alternately, you can have a meticulously constructed group sound and arrangement but soloing that lacks dynamic punch or emotional logic. Sometimes you can have both--hours of unrelieved, relatively static rhythmic section playing with relatively dull free association scattered on top of it. I saw a trio of musicians play Yoshi's a couple of years ago (I'll refrain from naming names, because when it gets this dicey, I'd rather rag on concepts rather than people), and it was actually the most boring free jazz I'd heard up until that point--players of international repute, and undeniably the most uninspired episode in a program rife with local musicians. At one point, Marshall Allen (no stranger to either interesting contexts or emotionally aggressive playing) actually thrust his bell into the piano player's ear and starting exploding--the entire room seemed to go up in flames, and the improvisation transitioned from tortuously dull to positively electric. I don't think there's anything wrong with playing to a room, engaging with an audience, and playing creative music with a visceral edge. Guys like Dudu did this all the time--and there are folks who are still absent form a lot of the "big" narratives who will not get their say on this account (Rahsaan Roland Kirk, for one). In fact, I think that in our ascent/descent into the realms of art music, we've thrown out a ton of stagecraft babies with the proverbial bathwater--and I'm often left thinking that, if/when we are to "evolve" as an art, why emotional detachment (however it may sound--furious or, well, nonplussed) is suddenly an affirmative quality. I mean, speaking to what Steve said, guys like Weasel play some of the most legitimately dangerous live improvised music around. Mostly Other People Do the Killing, despite the controversy, understands both the art of inciting furor and stagecraft. Yes, of course--in a music that has had room for Bill Evans as well as, say, Hank Jones, there will always be room for both Vijay Iyer and Alexander Von Schlippenbach--but part of me will always wonder why, in this music that has its foundations in Louis Armstrong and Kid Ory, there is so much of a premium on antiseptic (if virtuosic) music.
  13. Modern/Avant New Releases: A running thread

    Perhaps it has to do with their listening to other forms of music, in particular indie rock, punk or the like. Allen, I feel like this is a really interesting topic--it engages with a handful of issues that are "macro musical" but also of endemic concern to free jazz in particular. The genetics of free jazz are coded in more traditional mechanics (i.e., rhythm combo instrumentation, the dynamic between improvisation and composition, soloist v. accompanist, etc.), and I feel like the rub with a lot of music that gets lumped into this category concerns the degree to which said music is capable of undermining these more traditional considerations. I guess this is where EFI comes in, because it seems like the first music to get categorized under this (also) very broad banner seemed to confront these issues head-on. There are things like range, timbre, volume (and even things like directional sound--this is guitar player bullshit, and I'm sure many other kinds of amplified instrumentalists will be able to relate) that will serve to foreground or background certain instruments in a psychological sense, and I'm fascinated by the (even by modern standards) insane technical solutions formulated by the likes of the John Stevens, Derek Bailey, Paul Lytton, Toshinori Kondo, etc. Even guys who don't normally fall under this banner--like Fred Frith, Keith Rowe, or even Syd Barrett (all heroes of mine)--were dealing as far back as the 60's with considerations much more closely aligned with contemporaneous "new music" than American free jazz. I mean, when you get into Topography of the Lungs territory, you're know confronting this brave new world of textural organization--it's not just soloist v. rhythm section anymore. None of this is to say (and I speak also to my admittedly limited understanding of a lot of post-80's American free jazz and EFI, EAI, etc.) that the free music of an American lineage wasn't confronting these more convoluted problems in the past couple of decades--only that this does not seem to have ever been the foremost concern of free jazz as a loosely conglomerated entity. It's called free jazz--liberty from/of--with all of the positive and negatives that emanate from that continuum. For me (and returning, at last, to Allen's point), the big thing has to do with these "traditional" dynamics of tension and release. An occasional "point of contention"--and I'm surprised when it is, actually--is the relative merit of Out to Lunch with regard to the rest of Dolphy's discography. I (along with like 99% of the free music-loving population) swing closer to the "it's a masterpiece" line of thinking. The main triumph of that record, AFAIC, is the fact that it takes some of the greatest accompanists in the music (Davis/Williams), mixes them up with some of its preeminent soloists (Dolphy/Hubbard/Hutch), and spends around 40 minutes in this relentless upheaval of foreground/background. For my money, it is the best illustration of an attribute that always made Dolphy stand out from his peers: the solos don't peak. Listen again to Out to Lunch and try to identify a "best solo"--you might be able to articulate certain moments or episodes, but that record is not a soloist's album. Listen to Dolphy on most of his most extraordinary "soloist" features--from well-known stuff like his "Epistrophy" solo on Last Date and "Mendacity" to just totally obscure material like Mingus's "Hora Decubitus." Dolphy is a master of tension and release, with eminent control of his horn--but he also never goes for the cheap shot when it comes to solo construction. I feel like all soloists in the jazz tradition must be aware of the anxiety-inducing desire to "tell a story" or "grab the audience," etc., but it's at least arguable that many of the music's great soloists knew how to construct sequences of melody and structure that sound dynamic, developmental, and rovingly complex. This is why we celebrate Rollins or even guys like Clifford Jordan as soloists, but less (classic, Impulse! era) Pharoah--we think of Pharoah as a "total sound" soloist, but I feel like it's more than he's emanating from this continuum of barwalking powerhouses, always building toward these clear (but also somewhat predictable) climaxes. Ayler was a "climaxer," too--but recognize that he doesn't really enter this realm until the marching band music, when it's all about systematic building/release rather than free association per se. Guys like Rollins wouldn't be extraordinary were it not for the fact that they were (and are) fighting these small-scale battles against the tides of musical habit and embodied history. Keep in mind that this shouldn't serve as condemnation of Laubrock or Chapin, both of whom are surely capable of doing what I say Dolphy does above--but the more vindictive and self-critical musician in me understands soloing of the "slow build, then chaos" sort to be sort of irresponsible in light of all of the really innovative shit we've been exposed to in the last couple of decades. Yes, playing free jazz means dealing with the burden of history, but part of me also feels that this burden engenders responsibility--not going for the easy dynamics, sounds, and structures. Speaking again to Allen's point, when I hear so much music that sounds like this (and I'll freely admit to playing like this on occasion, and it's something that I'll of course always wish to work on), it can feel both lazy and emotionally manipulative.
  14. Mosaic plans Beehive box

    YES. Incidentally (and in a circular fashion), I think I first heard about that album via Do the Math--Iverson pretty aptly described Richard Davis as a "rogue bassist." That record is in a lot of ways the epitome of what I'm talking about--it's sincere and direct "inside" music played with a daring sense of rhythmic logic. Or, rather, it's "total effect" music--there's plenty of elision of time, harmony, etc., but the band sounds like it is in dialogue with its own chaos, if that makes sense. I'm reminded a bit of this session: ...which is, like, "Maximum Richard Davis." There's this sludgy groove to his playing on the sharper, more classic stuff (the bands with Jaki Byard come to mind, as does his Blue Note work with Andrew Hill in particular) that verges on unhinged in 70's (also: Hill's Nefertiti). The best way I can think to describe it is that it's more about the existence of the bottom end rather than the definitive "clarity" of it. (As an aside, I know that Richard Davis was on Coltrane's short list of possible bassists, and I wonder if this attribute--i.e., the ability to play complex inside material with both dizzying liberty and absolute heaviness--was a big part of it.) I'm sometimes on the fence about "changes" music that either intentionally confounds or subsumes commitment to form, and I think that the debate over music of this sort is a weird sort of final frontier for jazz criticism. I definitely think that this stuff is more of a rhetorical trap for post-academic jazz than, say, Ornette or Ayler, where (in the latter case) you're dealing with fully-realized worldviews that don't even need to reference someone else's rules. It's like contemporary blues music; I think the tension for guys of a younger mold (myself included) is that we're so far removed from the historical circumstances of the music that we're now dealing with questions of legitimacy, validation, and valuation. In other words, if the OG cats aren't around to yell at you on the bandstand, who will be your overlord? (One) short answer is that we create our own overlords, which is akin to fabricating our own personal hell(s).
  15. Mosaic plans Beehive box

    Ha, wow. I never thought of myself as a 'cat,' don't know about the rest of y'all. Having not posted anything for the past few weeks (and visiting only sporadically)--and then only learning about this thread via Do the Math--I feel like I just read a newspaper article about my apartment complex going up in flames. In terms of the Bee HIve stuff, I'm reminded of something I heard recently... paraphrasing, of course, but Herbie Hancock was saying that the classic Blue Note stuff presented a misleading picture of the music of that time period--that it was "perfect," when it was more ragged and exploratory on the bandstand. Something I love about the rise of independent record labels in the late 60's onward is that a lot more "wart-y" music seemed to get immortalized on wax. I'm sure a lot of this had to do with factors beyond my knowledge or awareness (in addition to obvious stuff like the rise of bass amplification, the prevalence of rock kits, the electric guitar, hazarding the post-Coltrane-era, etc.), but whatever the case may be, it's produced some of my favorite music. I spent the morning perusing the music discussed in this thread, and (incidentally) I've also been listening to a ton of Rahsaan and Strata-East-vintage pseudo-mainstream stuff. Dogma aside, stuff like Charles Davis's Ingia or the Charles Tolliver Slugs stuff just sounds so much closer to my experiences with tonal jazz in a pragmatic context than a lot of those (wonderful, immaculate) Blue Note dates. In a postmodern sense, that probably says more about my predilections and playing circles than it does about "the music," but I imagine there must be some sort of common reality to all this. All the talk about the Brignola album is right on--parts of "Donna Lee" are indeed fucked up and "wrong," but it's also feverishly exploratory and honest in a way that I think a lot of practicing musicians could probably identify with. I'm also reminded of that furor over this thing: Apparently JG loses the form for a little bit--exactly how and to what extent was in a ton of contention for a minute. IIRC, the two strains of thought were: (1) JG fucked up "All the Things You Are," which makes this a subpar document, and (2) who gives a shit? For my (very late to the party) part, this is a really roundabout way of trying to consider what these recordings are "as they are," rather than what they are not. I recognize the slippery critical slope of failing to evaluate music by quantifiable standards, and I think that our contemporary preoccupation with technical perfection has positives as well as negatives. At the same time--and in a muso-jerkoff-y sense--is there not some value in listening to 1978 Dave Holland (post-Braxton, still playing with Sam Rivers, early ECM) play with cats like Haynes and Brignola? Would this have been a "better" session with Sam Jones or Ron Carter or (even more chaotic, but definitely "in the idiom" and among that group of players) Richard Davis? After a while, it begins to feel a lot more like fantasy football than listening as an earnest endeavor, which is where I put my laptop on sleep and start running left hand exercises again.
  16. Last one, I swear: Playing Brooklyn for a couple of hits in the next three days--Muchmore's tonight, Pine Box Rock Shop on Friday, Panoply on Saturday. After some miserable travel but some great music (especially in Arlington and Cambridge), psyched to be playing NY.
  17. Hello, all- I'm breathlessly excited to be announcing that Grex--my Oakland-based trio--will be hitting the East Coast for a special run of dates (split between NY, DC, Virginia, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.) We've entitled the tour Electric Ghost Parade. The music we're taking on tour with us--none of which has been played on the East Cost before--is different from the stuff we've done in the past. A lot of the process of creating this music has centered on confronting our "creative apparitions"--the "big" stuff that a lot of outre jazz, rock, and electronic music is beholden to. When at first we thought we'd be consumed by the catastrophic burden of "creating something new," we've come to rejoice in the process. (Hence the "parade.") So we're proud to be bringing this fresh slew of music--which jousts and/or battles, in phases, with everything from Enemy-era Sonny Sharrock, Are You Experienced Hendrix, Surfer Rosa Pixies, the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, J Dilla's Donuts, and Deerhoof--out East. For fans of interesting "local music" of all stripes: we have some pretty killer bills in order, featuring some genuine underground powerhouses. So it's "art rock" or "post jazz" or whatever, but more than anything else, I'm proud of it and it's fun. If I catch any Organissimo folk when I'm out on tour, beverages are in order. Details: TOUR DATES Sept. 24, Philadelphia, PA, 8pm at AUX Space (Fire Museum Presents, w/Superlith, George Korein & the Spleen) Sept. 25, Washington, DC, 9pm at Velvet Lounge (with Chester Hawkins, Plums) Sept. 27, Arlington, VA, 9pm at Galaxy Hut (with Lost Civilizations) Sept. 29, Montclair, NJ, 9pm at Meatlocker (with PA Angelo, Ghypsee and the Wichts, et al.) Sept. 30, Cambridge, MA, 7pm at Lilypad (with Kenne Highland of the Gizmos, Fable Grazer) Oct. 1, Brooklyn, NY, 9pm at Muchmore’s (with Weasel Walter/Chris Pitsiokos Duo, Andrew Barker Trio, Max Jaffe/Brandon Seabrook/Tim Dahl) Oct. 2, Brooklyn, NY, 9:30pm at Pine Box Rock Shop (with Young Nudist, Aaron Novik's Abebbe (w/Ava Mendoza, etc.), Marc Edwards & Slipstream Time Travel) Oct. 3, Brooklyn, NY, 8pm at Panoply (Brooklyn Experimental Song Carnival, with Naked Roots, et al.) Listen to Grex: http://grex.bandcamp.com More Info: http://www.grexsounds.com
  18. Chris Spedding - lost jazz album (re)-emerges

    I admit, I haven't spent as much time with "iconic thug rocker" Chris Spedding, though I enjoy much of what I've heard. There was a beef mentioned in the Jack Bruce biography regarding Spedding's alleged distaste for the more complex/less-accessible music that he was playing prior to his "turn" to more explicit rockisms (I'd grab the quote, but I don't have the book in front of me), but Spedding has made it clear in subsequent years that he didn't intend to decry the music he made with Jack. (Though he apparently despises Songs Without Words, for the reasons mentioned above.) For pre-Motor Bikin' Spedding, the aforementioned Ricotti and Westbrook albums are great, as are his contributions to Nucleus. For my money, though, his playing on both Songs for A Tailor and Harmony Row is some of the clearest, most organic playing in the jazz-rock/prog/fusion canon. The Battered Ornaments stuff is more all over the place and messy, but (due to internal baggage) he makes most of the major vocal (and many of the instrumental) contributions to Mantle-PIece, and it's kind of a low-intensity classic. I think the synergy with Pete Brown was real and exciting, and it gave Spedding's semi-primitivist Curtis Mayfield/Hendrix shtick some real contextual heft.
  19. Chris Spedding - lost jazz album (re)-emerges

    Spedding is one of my absolute favorite guitarists (due in large part to his participation on Jack Bruce's early solo projects + The Battered Ornaments--whose two proper albums rank among the more idiosyncratic blends of free jazz and rock). This record has been a holy grail of mine for ages, despite the fact that Spedding has sort of disavowed it--I will most definitely be checking this out.
  20. Ha--thanks, folks! We're officially out East and ready to hit: playing Philadelphia tonight in advance of the Papal Hysteria, DC tomorrow and Arlington on Sunday. We'll of course be bringing our A game. Cheers and libations, of course, to any Organissimo folks we meet on the way!
  21. Well, I don't disagree with either of you guys. Reductionist analysis is dangerous at every stage--is that not what Jost is doing to an extent? The Free Jazz book is predicated on effective myth busting--i.e., yes this stuff is fire-y and dense, but there is a logic and calculation to it that cannot be denied. I imagine that this was a fresh and maybe even controversial perspective at the time that the book was initially published. What I find invidious about Jost's argument is the notion that analysis of this kind somehow "validates" the likes of Ornette, Trane, Ayler, etc. This sort of canon baiting is self-defeating; it's like the anecdote about Monk playing complex pieces of classical piano music. Yes, but what? Is Monk reducible to a Chopin quote? Or are there other (additional) factors at play? I definitely flinch at the talk of "fire music" and "angry black free jazz"--because it's clearly not the whole story. And I agree that if music is pigeonholed into a long and endless narrative of political struggle, it loses quite a bit of its identity--it's important (again) to note that much of this music (Ornette, Trane, Ayler, etc.) makes no explicit political arguments. But just because we're moving into an era of narrative complexity doesn't mean that we must or should lose the scope of political undercurrent (not to mention mythological esotericism) that does underpin a lot of this historical music. I mean, Skies of America is not just Ornette's big concerto grosso--it's also a bunch of his compositions strung together, and it's also an intended convergence of black rhythm and western art music methodology, and it's also a rumination on America both ugly and beautiful, etc.
  22. Jost's Free Jazz is simultaneously an essential historical document, an invaluable resource for a music that has too seldom been examined with any sort of technical rigor, and semi-dogmatic bullshit that furthers some profoundly dated conceptual (and, at its worst, racial) bias. I pulled out my copy just to look at the agonized notes that 19-year-old scribbled in the margins: "Ugh." "This is an oversimplification." "Jost is really grating on me." In retrospect, the book is important in that it's a rare musicological study of early free jazz amidst a staggering glut of rote historical documentation and sociopolitical analyses. (As an aside, I'd argue that As Serious As Your Life, Mr. Litweiler's The Freedom Principle, and maybe the Kofsky and a couple of LeRoi Jones books are "essential" reading to this effect, notwithstanding the relevant bios of Ornette, Trane, Sun Ra, the AACM, etc.) The very thing that makes Free Jazz an interesting document in and of itself is the fact that it interfaces with and comments on the historical understanding of free jazz as that genre of music was being formulated. Pertinent to our discussion of Scott's book, Free Jazz always suggested to me a dual-pronged question: (1) why don't more people think about free jazz (or much black music) in this way, and (2) does free jazz (or much black music) even need to be assessed by these standards? The worst offenders are the AACM and Sun Ra chapters. Jost makes an effort to think about this music in an objective sense, but it's with these more mythical aesthetic systems that the author's closeness to the continuum of "Western Art Music" analysis fails him. He can't go more than two paragraphs without saying something abstractly dismissive: referring to the sophisticated use of small percussion as "undifferentiated clanking and jingling," hatchet jobbing Braxton, belittling Sun Ra's conception as beholden to an "imaginary "cosmic" force" (the word cosmic is in quotation marks in Free Jazz), and so on. In short, Jost is OK applying rigorous methods of tonal (and new music-derived) analysis to the stuff that is more quantifiable--Ornette heads, the shape of a CT improvisation, the interconnected-ness of Don Cherry's BN suites--but he shies away from confronting the (then) newer, more abstract creative principles on their own terms. You can literally see (i.e., read) the generation gap in Jost's book. I recently had a discussion with a friend about how there's still difficulty teaching hip-hop in institutions, due in part to extra-institutional/personal biases on the part of the students--i.e., "Isn't hip-hop just frivolous, fun party music?" (well, yes, maybe it is--but the frivolity underpins some very real social and aesthetic traditions and considerations). Jost plays into this: at the veeery end of the Sun Ra chapter, he gives us this nugget: "On the one hand, there are passages that presumably could not be played by anyone but a jazz musician. The decisive criterion - as always - is the rhythmic substance..." This is the same tired, racialized bullshit that has prevailed in jazz scholarship since time immemorial: the implication here is not just that "they're jazz musicians, so they have rhythm," but rather that Sun Ra's complex system of afrocentric futurism is in some way reducible to "well, they have natural rhythm." Uhhhh... Going back to the Saul book, this is what I mean when I say that the music has some symbolic value that transcends its literal value. While it's both necessary and relevant to examine the music independent of its rhetoric and political pressures, it's equally important to confront the music as a composite that operates on its own terms. If Archie Shepp says that Attica Blues is about, well, Attica, well shit--then it is; it's also about the convergence of soul, rock, and jazz and the conservative turn in free jazz post-Coltrane. But Archie Shepp is not Bob James is not (even) Pharoah Sanders, so a comprehensive understanding of the guy's art has to confront the more nebulous (and charged) political-philosophical stuff. And there's more: when I say there's some symbolic value to dealing with avant-garde jazz as a weapon of struggle, it's because the "mythical/aesthetic" stuff has real power. Some of this power is racial, and I completely understand that this turns some people off. But ask Louis Moholo-Moholo--he still thinks that the goal of the Blue Notes was to free South Africa (and he was right, in a way). Sun Ra's soupy afrofuturism set an example for Braxton's mathematical abstractions, P-Funk's apocalyptic genre convergence, and Steve Coleman's mathy fusion. The AACM and UGMAA paved the way for organizations like Asian Improv aRts (whom I work with) to empower ethnocentric creativity. You can't dismiss this stuff, just like you can't deny the contributions of the Tristano school, the innovations of the Third Stream, and the monumental artistic achievements of many white jazz musicians.
  23. Somewhat tangential to your question, KU, but Scott Saul was actually my thesis adviser at Berkeley--deeply inquisitive and (like a lot of liberal arts faculty I encountered) rather jazz savvy. As for Freedom Is, Freedom Ain't, however--it might be considered less (or even "not at all") musicological analysis--more ethnomusicology with a political science/sociology bent. On that level, it's not terribly surprising that it doesn't address the topics that Allen mentions. I admit that it's been a really long time since I read it, but the book focuses on only a handful of "usual suspect" politically active jazz musicians. It doesn't even deal with second wave free jazz (and later) very thoroughly--though on a surface level, you'd think that this material would be pretty ripe for investigation. The text being fairly vague to my memory at this point, I can't really accuse Scott of championing a "convenient" narrative, though this does beg the question of whether certain "inconvenient truths" about jazz experimentation have resulted in the proportional erasure of certain key contributions (Tristano is the "big" one, but the other players that Allen mentions are cases in point). We've expounded (though maybe not at length) about this topic on this board, but the notion of free jazz as "angry black music" is clearly a partial truth and somewhat a-historic (for every Shepp or Mingus, there is a more apolitical Ornette or, to an extent, Coltrane). In more complex terms, I think that the symbolic value of avant-garde jazz as a weapon of struggle is almost more valuable than the literal value of avant-garde jazz as artistically emancipatory. I think it's valid to ask if there are many artforms in which experimentation is so closely paired with actual political struggle; I'm reminded a bit of something Clifford once said (I'm paraphrasing from memory, so I may get this wrong) about social liberals tending to be kind of rearguard in their artistic tastes. At the same time, I empathize with the notion that political accomplishment shouldn't necessarily subvert artistic accomplishment, and I find that the extraction of less politically charged artists from the narrative (yes, white musicians like Tristano and Konitz--but also guys like Joe Harriott and Bill Dixon, who are harder to slot into conventional rubrics) to be a tragedy.
  24. Producer as artist

    Germane to the discussion at hand, I admit that I've been talking more about the elision of production (in the way of stylistic choices, sonic character, musical direction, repertoire, etc.) and mixing/technical knowledge. Chuck, I'm actually curious what you have to say about the role of production in producing jazz and works of acoustic new music (especially in terms of how this is or is not different from, say, making a rock record). The Nessa catalog has a definite character/je ne sais quoi that is very unique, and I know that it's coaxed some of the best work from a roster of (already) accomplished musicians--Nonaah, Saga of the Outlaws, Air Time, and so on...
  25. Producer as artist

    Thank you for the kind words, guys--but in all seriousness, this forum has been such a welcoming context for my amorphous rambling that I'm not sure I can see an alternative anymore. And in all (serious) seriousness, I feel like I've actually learned more from similar digressions on this board than I have from most articles or academic texts in the past several years--there are things that have been said on here that will stick with me for a lifetime. As for In the Townships (and not to go on too huge a tangent)--I wonder if that was more a matter of artistic license on the leader's part of producer oversight. The thing I admire about the extended family of Brotherhood musicians is their willingness to take really wily creative risks, and whether through Dudu & the Spears, work with McGregor, Assagai (which In the Townships is sort of an extension of), or whatever, those guys had gotten proficient at making legitimate pop albums that did not dilute the creative jazz content. If Mr. Hawkins shows up here some time soon, I'd ask him if he ever quizzed Moholo about his recordings at this time, because there's nothing quite like them. When I spoke to Louis, he made a point of noting that his playing on In the Townships was meant to be sort of an alternative to the relatively mundane drumming that prevailed in mbaqanga at that time--which is why Louis is sticking to cymbals on almost the entire record (i.e., "there's no cymbal work" on the other mbaqanga stuff, so why not be contrarian). When he does explode onto the kit (as he does on Angel Nemali), the effect is staggering and really unique in the canon. This is the thing I love about this album--it strikes a unique balance between coyness and rage, coiled intensity and unhinged power--and it does so with intention and a mastery of the studio space. Speaking more to the issue of producer oversight and its effect on the delicate balance between genius and indulgence, compare Ubagile to Black Horse (an mp3 album of outtakes released online as part of the Black Lion reissue program). Ubagile is more of a straightforward Brotherhood album and less special because of it, IMO--consistent dynamics throughout, less thoughtful and more streamlined arrangements. Black Horse (which is culled from the same sessions with essentially the same set of musicians), on the other hand, is as close to a "mess" as any of these guys managed to make: cluttered, unstable, and actually kind of boring. It's a testament to how even middling albums take a lot of work to assemble, and how magical records (like In the Townships--again, in my estimation) are the rare work of vision, cooperation, and having the right hands on deck.