ep1str0phy

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  1. Jost's Free Jazz is simultaneously an essential historical document, an invaluable resource for a music that has too seldom been examined with any sort of technical rigor, and semi-dogmatic bullshit that furthers some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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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...
  4. 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.
  5. Kamasi Washington: THE EPIC

    I see what you mean, and while I'm not overly convinced by Lehman's music as more than experimental in its approach to confronting hip-hop culture and practices, it's clear that he knows that music. At the same time, I do wonder if the "great" music that can surely/hopefully be made in this vein will have to be made by someone with less institutional or conceptual baggage. In a way, I feel like Flying Lotus is this someone, but musical semantics will steer the conversation away from this so long as jazz and pop criticism continue to occupy such (seemingly) irreconcilable spaces. And if we're going down that road, I feel like we've already seen an organic neither jazz nor hip-hop/hybrid music in starts and fits. I definitely hear it on the Neneh Cherry & The Thing collaboration. That cover of "Accordion" is on point--it's is absolutely beholden to the source material but also sounds fluid and dynamic in a definitively jazz sense. That was only one part of an entire album that wasn't entirely as innovative or thoughtful, but that one track conveys the sort of invention that should start some real conversations out progress rather than regression.
  6. Producer as artist

    If we're going down that road (fusion-wise), then it's probably worthwhile to mention David Rubinson, whose role in producing the Mwandishi albums (if even/if only to give Herbie some free rein) cannot be understated. I think that those--even more than the original mixes of the Lifetime records or Weather Report--are the most exploratory and inventive of the early fusion/jazz rock records (outside of Miles, of course). Sextant is particularly off the rails, and the conjunction of pure electronic abstraction, swing, and Funkadelic-caliber R&B weirdness is a prescient one. We've mentioned but not really delved into Bob Thiele (and Ed Michel). While I'm not really well versed in their respective roles w/regard to the Impulse! catalog (outside of the oft-mentioned thing about giving Coltrane the liberty to record with borderline irresponsible frequency), their tenures are responsible for some of the most curious artifacts of early free jazz: New Grass and late-60's Shepp, Pharoah, and Marion Brown in particular. I think it's possible to read these overtures to 60's counterculture(s) as misguided attempts at reading the aesthetic value of free jazz saxophone, but plenty of this music has wound up being influential in interesting ways (New Grass to noise rock people, Thembi to chill out/electronica musicians, etc.). Personally, I think a lot of this wave of releases is free jazz of questionable value but mixed-genre music of quality and odd beauty.
  7. Producer as artist

    One of the things that i like about jazz is that it's relatively unproduced. I do enjoy heavily produced metal, hip hop, industrial, electronica etc but it's a key point of difference with jazz for me. I like the idea of hearing 5 people in a room (or rooms depending on the studio) working together and making something in real time over 1 or 2 days, as opposed to sitting in front of the iMac one at a time and doing their indivdual parts over the course of weeks or months. Of course, with jazz engineering comes in to it, the producer can have an influence and there can be splices of separate takes etc and probably the odd punch in but as i say, relatively unproduced. Off the top of my head i can't think of anything other than those already mentioned. Yeah, this is a huge point. I don't want my personal musical politics to infect too much of either this thread or how I voice my opinion, but the relative subtlety of jazz production has kind of taken on its own character. In a weird way, this posits jazz in-between popular/"sub-high" art forms (since jazz is so deeply rooted in dance musics) and "art music," the documentation of which is usually, well, pretty "documentarian" in nature. (Quotation marks here meant to undercut the potentially incendiary nature of the terms I'm using, since there's really no hierarchy in play here.) I've often wondered about why jazz production has resisted pace with pop when so much of that music has thoroughly invaded the conceptual framework of how jazz is played, and after a certain point, it's evident that it is a choice rather than a random incongruity. In 99% of cases, this is cool and necessary, but in that last 1% of cases, jazz production feels like a box that the music is straining to explode from within. The Blue Series stuff I talked about in the Kamasi thread is one example--if you're going to bring hip-hop into it in such a direct way, then why not just fuck up the stereo image and throw a bunch of random stuff in there? Similarly, if Prime Time is all about sonic convergence and undermining genre conceits, then why not go all out with the production? I know a lot of people hate it, but I enjoy Tone Dialing for this reason. I feel like In All Languages might be the most exciting Prime Time album for this very reason, and Denardo Coleman's production work on both of these records is admirable in that it ventures into territories that Ornette alone would not or could not journey. Speaking a bit to what Clifford said, John Jack's versatility in working with both rock and jazz went a big way toward producing some music that exercised some of the best attributes of both worlds. Dudu Pukwana's In the Townships (co-produced by Steve Verroca, who I'm not familiar with) is extraordinary for this reason--it takes a quintet and turns it into a tiny orchestra. The overdubs and mixing on that record transform it from a "merely good" album of South African experimental dance music to something akin to a free jazz Motown album. Having that many Dudus and Mongezis ping-ponging around the recording is sensational. As for personal preference, I know he's gotten a lot of flak, but I have to hand it to Bill Laswell for being one of the few mainstream producers savvy enough to nuance the (very flimsy) tipping point beyond which jazz freedom and pop production just don't mix. His work with James "Blood" Ulmer, Threadgill, and Ronald Shannon Jackson is excellent, and I hope I'm not one of only a few to really enjoy how much he got out of revising the Miles catalog. That being said, his work with Tony Williams and Sonny Sharrock in particular is just unbelievable. The unreleased remix of Turn It Over transforms that record from a wacky, Metal Machine Music-type curiosity to a killer psych rock record in spitting distance of late Hendrix, MC5, and The Stooges. Interested listeners had already connected the dots, but Turn It Over Redux--with it's more sensitive mix, Macero-like studio trickery (e.g., swapping organ parts between tracks), and genuine understanding of the bottom end (waaaay more Jack Bruce on Redux, for better and definitely not for worse)--is very well-realized. It suddenly crushes both the original mix and Emergency and Ego as the best Lifetime album. His work with Sharrock is similarly great in that it recognizes that, with a player with that much combustibility and power, a light touch is the best. Laswell also understood that Sharrock was playing an electric instrument, and his work on Sharrock's Enemy catalog in particular (Guitar and Seize the Rainbow being the best) is remarkable in how understated it is with both navigating the best tones and sonic environments for Sonny's guitar. I cannot think of another producer "of jazz" (albeit not necessarily a "jazz producer") who understands just how simultaneously versatile and fragile the electric guitar is. Laswell finds the best sounds for Sonny and then just gets out of the way--the mixing just enhances the power of the playing. It's magical stuff. Ask the Ages is of course monumental, and it's interesting in that it undermines exactly the dynamic xybert mentions. The success of free jazz on record is predicated to an extent on the relative fluidity and clarity of the recording--too light and you have zero bottom end, like Spiritual Unity (which, I might argue, actually enhances the spectral qualities of Ayler's playing); too dense and you have Echo or Atlantis, which makes the music closer to Sunn O))) than a Dial recording. Ask the Ages is the odd jazz guitar album that retains the power and suppleness of the rhythm section while surrounding it with a sort of phantom army of overdubs; the overdubs don't get in the way of the freedom, but the recording also doesn't sound arid or slick. Sonny, who sounds strong but weirdly clunky on something like Dance With Me Montana, sounds both sensitive and powerful on Ask the Ages--every bit as expressive as Pharoah. As a guitarist, I can't underestimate just how enormous an impact this had on me when first exploring the sonic possibilities of jazz on record. Right on--this is what I'm talking about. 3 Sided Dream is produced like a Hendrix album. It isn't as extraordinary to me as Ask the Ages in that Dream isn't quite a jazz record, but props to that guy for putting Rahsaan in so many varied and compatible contexts.
  8. Kamasi Washington: THE EPIC

    Allen, maybe I wasn't very clear here, but my intention wasn't to elevate Kamasi to the level of Lehman and Iyer. Rather, my point is that listening to Kamasi as jazz in and of itself is kind of self-defeating. The music is not equipped to be evaluated in that fashion--you wind up listening for depths and narratives that are just not there. By this point in the thread, all of that should be obvious and self-evident. OK, it's not particularly innovative or inventive music--sure. What does need to be addressed is the two-sided critical blind spot in play here. Look at The Epic's wikipedia page--when was the last time you saw a jazz album reviewed in Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, and The Guardian--and with marks that high? You want to talk about fucked up? Press, Promo, and reviews can be bought--that's been part of the business for ages. If there's a "problem" here, is has nothing to do with Kamasi getting so much playing and everything to do with how people are talking about him. Look at the reviews on the wikipedia page again--there's virtually no mention of any jazz or improvised music that emerged after 1970. Thom Jurek, of all people, is the one to mention Tapscott and Eddie Gale (who, btw, were making important music before/by 1970)--there's no talk of the AACM, BAG, and downtown NY stuff/post-Prime Time music, let alone either free improvisation or usual suspects in jazz/hip-hop hybridization. Maybe I'm wrong, please someone correct me if so- The people who do get mentioned are the Tranes, Pharoah, Ayler, (weirdly, but props to John Fordham for not echoing the other cats) Sun Ra, and other 60's guys--plus Miles and Weather Report. This is like a weird inverse of the "jazz is back!" bullshit from the 80's. Did you miss Coltrane and Pharoah? Well they're back. You can forget about all of that fucked up stuff that happened afterward, because it's all good now. We've been through this before, and we called it historical erasure. That's one part of the critical blind spot. The other half is, I would argue, real but harder to quantify. It has to do with the fact that most jazz criticism is just baldly under-equipped to evaluate jazz outside of the framework of jazz, its antecedents, and other art music. I wouldn't say that this is a deficiency so much as a matter of fact (i.e., why criticize a Honda Civic for not being a Dodge Challenger--they're two different things). But when we're talking about music like Kamasi's that is inextricably connected to hip-hop and modern R&B--not necessarily conceptually, but in terms of its technical choices and general direction--we have to understand that that (too) is part of the conversation. I'm not defending this music--again, just trying to articulate my feelings on it--but I will say that Greg Tate is one of the few critics who can deal with both jazz and hip-hop with real chops. If I had to get deep into it, I'd say that this is where the frustration is coming from--we're looking at this music like it's trying to be Trane after Trane when we also live in a world that had Braxton, Roscoe, James "Blood" Ulmer, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Matthew Shipp, Robert Glasper, and so on. We're also confronted with this music that looks facile and a-historical without earnest critical appraisal of its roots in G-Funk, A Tribe Called Quest/De La Soul (and other early jazz/hip-hop pioneers), the spectrum of alternative hip-hop, and the Brainfeeder label. To paraphrase a line off of To Pimp A Butterfly, look both ways before this music crosses your mind. As for what you say, Allen, about the desperation of being current leaving us behind the art form--yes, I agree. If anything, this is my criticism of guys like Iyer and Lehman (and again, what I was saying about Equilibrium)--there's a difference between engaging with a new art form on its own terms (he has been demolished on this board, but really--Robert Glasper) and only engaging with the surface elements. Kamasi and Iyer, for example, maybe are--maybe aren't--on the same level, but they're both asking us to take "surface work" at face value. There may be some deeper stuff in there (Shipp, for example, is way deeper on Equilibrium than the hip-hop trappings might suggest), but again--we have to get past the surface. Here's a different and more useful question: at what point in jazz did we feel that all music had to be all things to all people? Is this not why the jazz press has championed Iyer? Because it's free jazz/mainstream/hip-hop/new music/pop/electronic/improvisation? We decry the fact that we have so few new relevant artistic statements when the critical baggage in this genre is just impossible. Oppositely--and maybe rightly--when something comes along that is oblivious in some fashion--like Kamasi, or Badbadnotgood, or whatever--we trash it. So what music is there left to make? Or should we just blow it all up and start over again? Yeah, you're right--and though I was speaking more to the "responsibility" of musicians now (i.e., after Dilla, Madlib, and so on--in 2015--what is it that we must do or know beforehand), you do raise an interesting point about these "early" hip-hop/jazz collaborations. When your frame of reference is Low End Theory but not (yet) Madvillain or even Madlib's Shades of Blue (also released in 2003), there is some information missing that might color your perspective. These cross-genre applications are interesting in that--unlike with jazz, whose chief innovations have been historical for decades now--hip-hop has only really since the turn of the century been in the midst of its experimental explosion. History-as-moving-target has not been the purview of jazz criticism for a while now.
  9. Kamasi Washington: THE EPIC

    Considering starting a new topic for this, but considering the fact that this touches upon some of the discussion here, I thought I'd re-up this dead or dying horse- I was fascinated by the Terrace Martin article linked elsewhere: http://www.npr.org/sections/microphonecheck/2015/02/11/385218373/terrace-martin-everything-got-a-little-bit-of-funk-in-it (apologies to whomever found it, I can't seem to re-find the link at this hour). It's instructive in that it details the sort-of inner creative life of someone in Kamasi's extended community of musicians. This was pretty illuminating: MARTIN: Oh, yeah. Easily. Because I'm from South Central LA. So jazz — although my father is a jazz musician — but when you young, you not really into hearing John Coltrane. It sounds crazy to you. Crazy. So, it's just like, the Midnight Marauders album was the closest thing that I felt kinda familiar with as a kid listening to with my father, you know what I'm saying? As a saxophonist whose own music veers into dance music and R&B territory--and one of the more prominent among the younger set of jazz-informed LA cats to take an active role in the shaping of 21st century hip-hop--Martin is straddling multiple traditions. We often speak of the jazz tradition as something fluid but still monolithic, like a centipede in that it has a multitude of appendages but definable beginnings and ends. I know I'm preaching to the choir on the O board, but the aforementioned logic is peculiar in that it tends to ignore the idiomatic slippage and play that is in effect with regard to musicians who have come of age after the jazz "crisis" point of the 80's. A working knowledge of jazz may still be a cultural imperative for for the vast majority of young musicians working in black diasporic musics, but a practicing engagement with jazz is another story altogether. I've been listening to a ton of hip-hop lately--in part because it's become evident that (as both an LA cat and a musician of color) this is part of my embodied cultural heritage, in part because we've now reached a point with that music where we can look at it with critical and generational distance. In a weird sense, hip-hop has had it's "bebop" moment of superlative cultural achievement, and it's arguable that that it's reached a juncture of dissipating cultural returns and diminishing scope (e.g., "hip-hop is dead" as the new "jazz is dead"). This doesn’t mean that new epochal artistic statements under the hip-hop rubric are impossible (re: To Pimp A Butterfly), only that it’s now a “post” art and needs to be understood as such. I’m (really) not pointing fingers when saying this, but it’s sort of silly to yell at kids for “that rap shit” when NWA has a canonizing biopic in theaters. Coming back to Kamasi, we can now look at that music as not just commercial or mainstream jazz (or a facsimile of such), but rather the sound of a younger generation of musicians coming to terms with jazz as fertile--if secondary--ground for creativity. Kamasi’s links to the Tapscott ethos are as legit as it gets out on the WC, but it’s not a straight line from Tapscott to The Epic--it zips through both mainstream and alternative rap, contemporary R&B, electronic dance music, and so on. Dealing with Kamasi as jazz per se is kind of self-defeating, because this music is jazz in the same way that Jonny Greenwood’s soundtracks are Western New Music--that is, absolutely but also not really. Looking at this a different way, I decided to listen to some Blue Series music again (after Clifford’s mention and a long time in-between). Matthew Shipp’s Equilibrium was always my favorite. In retrospect, I like it only ok. I think--especially now, in the wake of guys like J Dilla, Madlib, and Flying Lotus--it’s a little irresponsible to be dealing only with the surface mechanics of hip-hop. Equilibrium came out the same year as Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, which is mystifying to me. There is jazz all over The Love Below, but it gets at the root of that music in profound and meaningful ways. There are free jazz horns--used with effective context--on The Love Below. There is a cover of “My Favorite Things” that makes an earnest attempt at engaging with the harmonic reality of the Coltrane Quartet. Equilibrium has vamps, some sampled beats, and some hip-hop production. There is no exigency to this process. In the best contexts, beats are simultaneously fixture and firmament--their fixity and the creative undermining of said fixity is what makes that music work. Equilibrium strains at this repetitiveness even as said constancy undercuts the improvisers’ fluidity and power. This isn’t hybrid music so much as constrained jazz that wants to get at the sound but not the procedure of hip-hop. Some of Vijay Iyer’s (much more recent) music is like this--Steve Lehman’s too. While both of these guys have real feels for hip-hop and (I’m sure) know that music intimately, there’s something about how their musics engage with rap that feels more like NPR headline grabbing than organic musicmaking. Again, the problem isn’t with the musicianship so much as it is procedural: you can make the music using the techniques and the logics, but Wu Tang is not Coltrane and failure to bow to the nuances therein is creatively damning. To reiterate and clarify my point after this very longwinded post, appreciate (or don’t) Kamasi’s music for what it is--jazz that tries to get back to jazz way after half a century’s worth of alternative narratives. The critical and promotional agendas are something else entirely, and they’re tied into the physics of two genres (jazz and hip-hop) in respective processes of urgent, desperate survival. The “worthy” art in and among all of this chaos is maybe good but definitely far more complex than might seem evident.
  10. Hey, all- I haven't made a post like this a minute, but I thought that this particular run of dates might be interesting to Organissimo-ites of the Southern CA persuasion- My art rock/psych trio Grex (http://www.grexsounds.com) has been in the midst of a very heavy regimen of recording, rehearsal, and giging, and whatever you wish to call the music that we've arrived at, I can say with some certainty that I've never been prouder of anything I've worked on in my life. It's the post-Hendrix/Dudu Pukwana/Deerhoof thing we've been trying to get to for ages. We're bringing this new round of songs to LA for a few choice dates--the 1st (on June 12) with a new configuration of the Vinny Golia Ensemble. If you don't know Vinny, he's the daddy of the Nine Winds label and one of the true living legends of the LA Jazz scene (having worked with the likes of Bobby Bradford, John Carter, Alex Cline, Horace Tapscott, etc.). On June 13, we're joined by a few LA experimental pop mainstays (Helene Renaut, My Hawaii) and a special duo of Steuart Liebig and Joe Berardi. Steuart has been bassist for Les McCann and Julius Hemphill (on the beautiful and atypical Georgia Blue), and Joe Berardi is an LA session heavyhitter (with the great band Non Credo and, surprisingly, Megan Mullally's group--he can actually be seen on a few episodes of Parks and Recreation). June 14 is our sole Long Beach date and features one of the great local psych/prog ensembles (Karl?)--it's an opportunity to stretch out at a venue that that is shockingly (1) clean and (2) very hospitable to adventurous music. The dates: Grex w/Vinny Golia Ensemble June 12, 8-10pm (7:30pm doors) @ Ham & Eggs Tavern 433 W 8th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90014 $5 Cover http://www.vinnygolia.com Grex w/My Hawaii, Helene Renaut, Joe Berardi/Steuart Liebig June 13, 8pm Doors/8:30pm Music @ Human Resources 410 Cottage Home, Los Angeles, CA 90012 $7 Cover http://myhawaii.bandcamp.com http://www.helenerenaut.com Grex w/Karl? June 14, 6pm-9pm (Grex on 1st) @ 4th Street Vine 2142 E 4th Street, Long Beach, CA 90814 Free/Donations Accepted http://www.facebook.com/karlqmark Of course, we'd love to see some O folks. There's great music happening everywhere--naturally, we're just hoping (and trying) to add to it. -K/ep1
  11. The last I'll post on this, but the band is in LA and primed to play tonight (6/12) with Mr. Golia at Ham & Eggs Tavern. Doors at 7:30pm, show at 8pm. For obvious (communal) reasons, there has been this momentous, uncanny energy in the music over the course of the past couple of days, and I'm looking forward to engaging with it.
  12. Ornette Coleman Trio at Hill Auditorium

    This band and its precursor (the trio with Denardo and Charnett Moffett--never got to see the band with Geri Allen) completely flattened me. The Charnett/Denardo band was muscular, dynamic, and strange, and witnessing this band's truly surreal not jazz/not electric hybrid (with Ornette on violin and Denardo in full John Bonham mode) was a formative experience. The second time I saw Ornette, it was the Sound Grammar band--Charlie Haden's Quartet West opened, and Haden actually joined Ornette for the inevitable encore of "Lonely Woman"--it was more subdued, and the crowd was almost openly hostile for the duration of the show, but Ornette's playing assumed this plaintive, evasive quality that I'd only rarely heard on record up to that point. The last time I saw him was almost an otherworldly experience--it was the three bass band (with Charnett in tow), and at that advanced stage, Ornette's playing had been reduced to a spectral murmur. All of the rhythmic momentum was in the hands of the younger cats (including Al MacDowell--who, in being saddled with playing all of the heads, was the night's secret MVP). The music itself was unbelievable--conceptually rich, sonically complex, and somehow (sounding) absolutely spontaneous. It was more thoroughly "avant-garde" than any Ornette on record: spontaneous group rhythmic displacement (i.e., the band coming together on these seemingly improvised streams of mixed meter), insane melodic communication, crazy juxtaposition of feels and sounds. Denardo took this post-"Wipeout"/pseudo-Mitch Mitchell drum solo that was absolutely out of this world--the maturation of a path that Ornette had set out on back when he and son first teamed for the audacious The Empty Foxhole all those years ago. I had a cold when I arrived that evening, and it was gone by the end of the show.
  13. Ornette Coleman - RIP

    My Facebook feed is flooded with obituaries, and I’m reminded of the role Ornette Coleman’s music has played in the shaping and liberation of so much culture. The filaments of the 21st century are suffused with his aesthetic. There are themes and notions in Ornette’s music that would be relevant in any era: freedom, communication, coexistence, agency, authority (and the deconstruction of hierarchy), and so on. It’s mind-boggling to consider that for every great album issued under his name--and for every concert he played--there are thousands of artists whose whose work is charged by the atom of harmolodics. John Coltrane recorded with Ornette’s rhythm section. Dolphy edged closer to his mature music in commune with early free jazz. Roscoe Mitchell made his first “big” statement on an album that opened with a tune called “Ornette.” The musics of Miles, Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins, and other “pre-free” figureheads were upended by Ornette’s innovations. Early harmolodic music presaged the innovations of Albert Ayler, the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, and AMM, and Ornette was part of the genetics of punk rock. Pop culture iconology from Lou Reed to Patti Smith to Yoko Ono owes obvious (and sometimes direct) debt to Ornette’s music. And this is the famous stuff- I (like many others) will probably be listening to the classics over the course of the next few days: The Shape of Jazz to Come, Crisis, Science Fiction, and so on. The microcosmic universe that Ornette cultivated with the likes of Cherry, Haden, Higgins, and Blackwell (all dearly departed, now each his own undeniable and monumental influence) is as much a triumph of genuine ingenuity and experimentation as it is (post hoc) a victory for innovation and the American spirit of individuality. The Ornette that has played the greatest role in my life, however, is the marginal one. I didn’t know him as a person and received the gift of his music decades after the initial flush of fury and awe--but listen to the wiry and chaotic violinist/trumpeter on “Snowflakes and Sunshine” (Live at the Golden Circle Vol. 2), the man who enabled and emboldened a 10 year old drummer on The Empty Foxhole, the daring and maybe even overbold auteur of Skies of America and Tone Dialing. Like the entreaties of some parallel universe life coach, Ornette’s musical life was an invitation (for many, like me, a dictum): ”don’t play like me, don’t live like this, do your own thing.” So today, and ever day after this, I’ll play my own shit. I’ll do my best to foster creativity in my friends, peers, students, and (even? hopefully?) my elders. I’ll make it out to shows, and I’ll let people know when there’s some “cool new music” happening. I’ll work hard at perfecting my craft, but I’ll make room for life, inquiry, and the invention of change. Maybe I’ll go left, but if I do it three times, I’ll be going right, too. To paraphrase Hendrix, Ornette was the first ray of a new rising sun. We are the change of the century. We are the shape of jazz to come.
  14. Jeff Denson Trio + Lee Konitz

    This is hilarious to me in that I play with Jon Arkin semi-frequently, and though I've known that this collaboration was happening, he has been pretty quiet about it. I had know idea about the record, for one. Anyway, I've heard great things about this group, and the cast of characters is of very high repute (speaking more about the locals, which I know people are likely less hip to). Jon, for one, is a tremendously versatile player and (especially) a preternaturally sensitive drummer. It makes him both a really creative changes drummer and a joy to improvise with in freer contexts. I look forward to hearing this one...
  15. Kamasi Washington: THE EPIC

    But tell us how you really feel
  16. Kamasi Washington: THE EPIC

    In the interest of lifting people up rather than putting folks down, two names: Phillip Greenlief and Matt Nelson. PG is a West Coast guy, and he's simultaneously an tremendously deft free improviser (in the "classic" sense) and a very well equipped straightahead player. His understanding of the organic relationship between seemingly contrary improvising disciplines makes him a very interesting improviser regardless of the context. PG's band The Lost Trio actually essayed maybe the best Monk tribute I've ever heard (in that it both thoughtfully considers the compositions and sounds truly spontaneous), entitled Monkwork. Matt is from a newer wave of guys whose music I have a lot of affection for. Allen brought up the notion of post-postmodern music (sorry, I feel like I'm paraphrasing an entire hypothesis from weak memory), and I hear this in Matt's music (and that of his sometime associates Michael Coleman, Sam Ospovat, etc.)--it draws freely but unironically from a tremendous swath of history, and the end result is both deeply personal, lyrical as often as abstract. I think that Leeway's comments are dead-on in terms of finding new evaluative paradigms for creative music of all sorts. I may have more respect for Halvorson's music than I do excitement (again, my hang up and not hers), but there are "things" in her playing that are so valuable as points of critical and artistic reference--being non-egoistic, referentially "open," and so-on. The fact that this music is being received and understood is a testament to the fact that we're beginning to build a dialogue about things both unheard and as yet not known. Re: what Jim said--I'm of no mind that jazz needs saving in any institutional sense, and I think the mass critical preoccupation with not only survival but also evaluating precisely what makes creative music important is a big part of this. To reiterate (and more bluntly this time), I feel like modern jazz/improv "as it is" is in large part an exercise in staking louder claims on smaller and smaller parcels of land, and a lot of the most creative people have just moved out and beyond this dialogue into more fertile territories. I don't think that Washington will save jazz, but, again, Jazz will never die, and I'm just excited to see the spirit of the music live on in something different. I also have to say that everything that gets said on this board gives me more than enough to chew on out in the "real world" (where words are words and not binary code)--so thanks for that. I feel like these kinds of discussion have been crucial toward a personal turn in the past year or so, when I stopped wondering "what happens now" and started gearing up for "what happens next."
  17. Kamasi Washington: THE EPIC

    Thanks for the kind words, Steve, and I do agree that there is a degree of inaccessibility to Halvorson's music that I may have given short shrift. Hiding within the abundant critical praise for To Pimp a Butterfly was a sort of mass suspicion of jazz and experimentalism in general, though my point (and I think this speaks more to what Allen said) is more that there's fringe music and fringe music- Allen, I'm not sure if this was addressed at me, but I would never criticize anyone for not liking something on musical grounds--quite the opposite, in this case. I, too, would rather listen to Africa Brass, Charles Tolliver's Strata-Easts, McCoy on Milestone, etc. etc. than Kamasi, but the ennui that informs my feelings on Washington's music is not the same ennui that I feel upon ruminating the future of "the music." I'm fascinated by the phrase "crisis of the spirit," and while I'm not sure I agree, I can kind of see what you mean. A guitarist friend of mine once criticized Halvorson's use of distortion as disingenuous--as if she were a qualitative jazz guitarist "playing" at the sound of noisy rage. This criticism may or may not be fair--I get the sense that Halvorson's relationship with the sounds of indie rock is a real and honest one--but I know what he was getting at. I feel the same way when listening to Pat Martino's fusion music, and a lot of jazz guitarists in the wake of jazz-rock were guilty of this--using distortion as a sort of crass repackaging, rather than recognizing what it does to and can do for your instrument. In other words, the sound may be there, but not "the soul." This is why, although the music doesn't really excite me, I'm kind of rooting for guys like Kamasi. So much of the music from that LA scene is lacking in any sort of existential crisis, which is an absolute reversal of a lot of modern jazz and improvised music. Quite a bit of the music in NY is boundlessly virtuosic but (speaking to "crisis of the spirit") seems to be searching for a reason to exist. I'm squarely of the mind that the shape of (X) to come can and should arrive prepackaged with its raison d'etre.
  18. Kamasi Washington: THE EPIC

    Jazz isn't dying, but its (previous) fans are. Anyway, you guys have perked up my interest - will give it a listen. I think that the "don't hate the player, hate the game" adage applies here- The fact that there has been so much hoopla surrounding both Washington's album and To Pimp a Butterfly testifies to the notions that (a) jazz people and jazz audiences are receptive to the infusion of new blood and (b) there is nothing inherently inaccessible about jazz as a music, even if there is a degree of toxicity to "jazz" as both an institution and genre (in a mass appeal/populist sense). Yes, a lot of folks here may not find a lot to appreciate about Kamasi's music, but it's worth noting that so many people took the time to (bother to) listen. I sense that a lot of what makes it difficult to penetrate the "Jazz Market" in any meaningful way is couched in a degree of equilibrium. For any number of reasons, the market share of this music has decreased and continues to decrease in a very active way, and the end result is a lack of resources--compositions, styles, and people get regurgitated in jazz because the reach of the jazz press, the enterprising spirit of the musicians, etc. are overextended. Touring jazz musicians can't always book jazz clubs in the Bay Area anymore--two high profile ECM artists booked DIY spaces in Northern CA in the past few months alone. You wake up to discover that it's hard enough to subsist, let alone get over. This is why I bring up Braxton. The AACM guys who so many younger guys look up to comprise a sense of creative leftism that has been "left" for a very long time. Hendrix was still alive when the Art Ensemble and Braxton were cutting their first, epochal recordings. I've heard people call Rowe-ian EAI cutting-edge, but AMM was already making some aggressively minimal music (with at least similar operating procedures) as far back as the 70's, maybe 80's. Even if this music still has the power to excite and shock, I find it impossible to think of any of it as qualitative fringe music anymore--and if it is, why does that say about us as improvising musicians? In a way, that's why I kind of have to give it up to guys like Flying Lotus, Kendrick, Washington, etc.--not necessarily because their music does represent a kind of cutting-edge (an argument really could be made for Flying Lotus, in this regard), but because these are guys with definitive jazz roots and relationships whose creativity is unencumbered by the unbearable weight of its genesis. What if someone with Washington's resources and irreverence shows up and has the vision and technicality to back it up? The infrastructure can and needs to "be there." Mary Halvorson may be cutting some spectacular music these days, but I've long gotten the sense that the next sound to really jolt us to attention (in a "jazz" sense, at least) may arrive in a form none of us will have anticipated.
  19. Kamasi Washington: THE EPIC

    Didn't we have an iteration of this exchange the last time FlyLo came up? It's one of those discussions that can feel like playing Pong--the participation is there, but it's also dark and kind of lonely. This is a huge topic. I've been reading Charles Shaar Murray's truly remarkable Crosstown Traffic recently, and one of the points it makes is that critical, popular, and creative reception to Jimi Hendrix was a confluence of a multitude of attitudes, biases, and ideologies. I mean, Hendrix was one of the first real post jazz artists in that he engaged with critical parts of the jazz mythology (centrifuging race and improvised music) even while he was in the process of creating an entirely new set of musical categories. Are You Experienced is nearly 50 years old--why then is there so little critical discourse regarding "the jazz" of Hendrix? I think it's pretty plain that our shared categories are pretty limited. This says nothing about taste or the biases (imagined or real) of the listening audience, O board people included--by "our," I'm referring to the collective cultural consciousness (insofar as it exists). We don't talk about FlyLo (a relative of Alice and John Coltrane), Madlib (who is really just making "jazz albums" half of the time), D'Angelo, etc. etc. because, well, none of this stuff is "effectively" jazz--it may smell, feel, and for all intents and purposes be jazz, but none of this music has to deal with the parochial cultural geography of Jazz Music. Hip-hop is cut off from the lineage by virtue of the fact that it never succumbed to the question of its own validity. You can take or leave Kendrick, but To Pimp a Butterfly *should* be a big deal for "us." I cannot think of the last mainstream hip-hop album that waved the freak flag for jazz this emphatically and overtly. Madlib's Shades of Blue is cheating, since it's more of a boutique effort, and there are mostly "just" shades in MF Doom, Common, and so on. I feel really lame saying that A Tribe Called Quest's The Low End Theory is the clearest point of comparison. In a time when jazz is starved for megastars, Kendrick making what is essentially a jazz/hip-hop hybrid is almost the equivalent of what would have happened had Hendrix lived to collaborate with Gil Evans. As sort of the heir apparent to Tupac Shakur, Kendrick taps into both the ethos of accessible, sensitive, alternative hip-hop and the WC gangsta rap lineage of the 80's and 90's--Kendrick's music is relevant precisely because it sits at the intersection of so many different methodologies. To Pimp a Butterfly is not just socially conscious--it's musically conscious, and that album's very existence and mainstream acceptance can be read as validation of the continuing importance of jazz as America's cultural totem. It's not a huge leap to see what this extraordinarily hyped music has in common with Hendrix's overtures to jazz (or, in a recursive way, Miles's creative resurgence after his godfathering of jazz-rock). What's fascinating about this discussion to me is that the dialogues about To Pimp a Butterfly's "hands across the aisle" genre conceits seem to be limited to pop, hip-hop, and more mainstream media outlets. It's like everyone is talking about this stuff except for jazz enthusiasts. One conclusion I've come to is that, even for jazz (which has been caught up in reports of its own death over the course of the past few decades), the time for seeking "validity" and "relevance" is just over. Maybe we can just get back to making music? As a musician and listener, I'm 100% in favor of just going back to making music--I only see a "problem" insofar as the "powers that be" take this as a tacit agreement that the jazz community is a country with closed borders. The moment that artistic independence becomes myopia--and when myopia becomes stagnancy, and when stagnancy becomes necrosis--that's when the cats start jumping ship on jazz as an entity. So dig, Kamasi Washington's music may not be good or even worthwhile jazz, and it definitely won't have a stitch on Coltrane in the same way that Mike Stern isn't a stone's throw next to Hendrix, but it just goes to show that even the mediocre guys (keep in mind I'm not even trying to level a value judgment against Mr. Washington here--this is purely rhetorical) find it more fruitful to play, eat, and smell like jazz--but not be "jazz artists"--than to go down with a sinking ship. Jazz will never die, but the jazz industry is already unviable. I don't doubt for a second that a lot of the people who dislike Kamasi are listening with their ears, that there's no real "but" there. Maybe Kamasi (and maybe Kendrick) just aren't very good music. At the same time, the next time someone invariably posts the "Jazz is the least popular genre in the U.S." thing, it's worthwhile to consider that it isn't a question of whether people are still making "good" or "bad" music--it's a matter of whether "being popular" and "being jazz" even exist in the same continuum anymore. Sooner or later we'll be sadly out of Braxtons and Braxton proteges, and then who will we listen to? And what are we going to play?
  20. Kamasi Washington: THE EPIC

    Ethan Iverson made an interesting post about the lack of attribution surrounding this release (not on the liners themselves, apparently--I haven't purchased a hard copy of the album)--apparently the personnel have been largely absent from the promotional discussion. There are reasons for this, of course--not least being a supposed desire to emphasize the "jazz auteur" iconology. If you look at the music within the framework of a heavily orchestrated Milestone album or even a Creed Taylor production, it makes slightly more sense. Two things that pop out to me in terms of this topic: (1) Although at times more subliminal than overt, there is some connective tissue between this music and the extended UGMAA community. (2) If you want to hear something from this cast that is harder and more ostensibly creative (but also waaay more stoned), check out Flying Lotus's album You're Dead. That's the sort of meaty, inventive-but-earthy "jazz" that might qualify as innovation in and among the mainstream. The press will treat Flying Lotus, Washington, and Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly as sort of a continuum, but it's with FlyLo and Kendrick that I hear the spiritual afterimage of the classic Strata Easts, vocal choir Max Roach, etc.
  21. Right on, guys! It's going to be a killer run of shows. Of course, I can completely empathize with the hazards and stress of LA traffic--at this point, I just use it as an opportunity to give my car stereo a workout.
  22. Absolutely understandable, of course. Thanks, Chuck!
  23. The only credibility I can lend to these sentiments is the fact that I was there and am there for the "tail end" of this particular moment in the music. There's a phrase that I heard Evan Parker use that really sticks with me, and it's something to the effect of (I'm paraphrasing), "There are things that happen live that will not travel down a wire." There is some recorded music that is more magically live/alive than others, and the Nimbus West stuff must be counted in that number. Listen to the PAPA at Live at I.U.C.C.--you hear this simultaneity of rawness, passion, and rhythm. This is that "West Coast Hot" thing that is discussed more often than heard. The Giant Is Awakened has this, too--the music may not always have the finesse or casual virtuosity of contemporaneous East Coast stuff, but it has this rhythmic vitality and dark momentum that is both undeniable and irreplicable. There is a lot of music in and around this lineage that is happening these days, and much of it to very minimal fanfare. I haven't seen Sessions play for a while, but he must still be up to this. Vinny Golia, Steuart Liebig, the Cline brothers (though Nels is in NY now), Phillip Greenlief, GE Stinson, Ben Goldberg, Francis Wong, Jon Jang, Dan Clucas, Lewis Jordan, India Cooke, Ross Hammond--it is all very heavy music that doesn't hew cleanly into any narratives about free v. mainstream, in v. out, modern v. postmodern, and so on. And those are just some of the cats who have been around "for a minute."
  24. I bought this one from Michael Session a few years back--there are some really thrilling moments (especially on the tunes with Horace), but it doesn't really compare to just how exciting Session was (and is) live. Back in my college years, I would spend summers with my family in Los Angeles, and I would catch incarnations of the Session band whenever possible. Much of this was either at LACMA or somewhere near Leimert Park (which was in the midst of a bit of a renaissance at the time)--I even hit some sessions at the World Stage, though I was never around long enough to visit regularly. For all the talk about live jazz being in a downward spiral since the 80's, there was a ton of "classic" legacy music going on in Los Angeles in the early 2000s--Gerald Wilson was still leading his big band, Charlie O's was still open in the SF Valley (saw a killer set with Azar Lawrence and Lorca Hart--:45-1hr version of "Impressions," just scalding music), the Jazz Bakery was bringing in Andrew Hill, Sonny Fortune/Rashied Ali, and so on, Bobby Bradford was regularly visible, and, of course the Session band. Of all of the guys I saw back when I was a resident, I now (even in LA) only really see Vinny Golia, Steuart Liebig, Alex Cline, and a handful of other guys who commute to the Bay Area for gigs. I will never forget the handful of occasions I actually got to sit through full concerts of the Session ensemble with Steve Smith and Nate Morgan, because that music was formative for me. That band stood in outright defiance of the notion that the shredding inside/out jazz of the 70's was a lost concept with the advent of Wynton. I've still never seen another live band that played gutsier music in this particular mode--the energy was insane, and much of that had to do with just how tapped into the community these guys were. I'd heard stories of the UGMAA in the old days, and this was exactly that: music happening among and feeding off of the people, participating in the performance of socialization rather than cloistering itself off into some hallowed realm. Every day seems to be a new RIP on the Artists page, and it reminds me of just how much of this stuff I can take for granted. It's easy to view this music as distant and historical, but it never really stops happening--jazz fights to the last man, and he's still there (if you're willing to look for him).
  25. San Francisco / Bay Area Record Stores

    Have fun, Eric! BTW--last time I checked, Groove Merchant still exists, though it's one of the places I never hit (for some reason). Amoeba has been having a lot of ups and downs in the past few years. The last I heard, the LA store was the one doing the "best," and through various means the others have been able to stay afloat. There's been some diversification into books, collectibles, and so on, but the fact that those three shops have been able to retain such sizable and diverse stocks of both LPs and CDs is remarkable. The three Amoeba stores have the only jazz sections in close proximity that don't make me feel like I've been "cheated" by poor/rote selection. On that note, there truly are scarce few "big" CD outlets left. I could run down the literal handful (maybe 3-4 shops) in the San Fernando Valley (we're talking So Cal now) that still carry anything resembling a worthwhile CD selection. Meanwhile, there is still a brick and mortar Wherehouse Music closer to Palos Verdes--how this place survived (maybe it got franchised out?) is beyond me.