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ep1str0phy's Achievements


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  1. This one really hurts - not unexpected, based on rumblings about his health that have been circulating for several years, but still difficult. From his work with the Coltranes to his now-legendary run on Impulse, stopping at some very crucial junctures to commune with the likes of Don Cherry, the Jazz Composer's Orchestra, Sonny Sharrock, and countless others, Pharoah's legacy as a performer and conceptualist is formidable. Regardless of what roses will be sent his way in the coming days, ranking among his greatest achievements must be his mastery of sound as a building block of jazz performance. I don't think that scholarship quite understands just how much this cat - kind of a paradigmatic enfant terrible - affected the vocabulary of this music. It's obvious from the recordings and any number of firsthand accounts that there was a Pharoah before Coltrane, but it's remarkable how Pharoah took the calculus of Coltrane and distilled it into a specific subset of ideas. Every time I listen to Meditations, I hear Coltrane - fleet, virtuosic, and somehow both larger than life and laborious - and then I hear Pharoah. Pharoah just got to it. A burst of sound suffices where a flurry of notes was formerly necessitated. Between his recognition of solo construction and his really unique grasp of compositional formats - minimalistic modal vamps, rubato balladry, and so on - Pharoah presaged both smooth jazz and the harshest European Free Improvisation. If that isn't a testament to an artistic life well lived, then I don't know what is.
  2. Damn. Grachan Moncur III was a huge part of my formative listening. Those two key aspects of his work - that boundlessly deep, economical trombone and his proficiency with a kind of intense jazz minimalism - left an indelible mark on volumes of musicians. In his prime, Moncur had this ability to command your full attention with only a modicum of content - as if the absence of information forced you to explore what was most assuredly - but only elusively - there. You just cannot deny that he had something. The Blue Notes are stellar - and Rooster, thank you for sharing that YouTube vid and the Masters record. Exploration is one of my favorite "recent" big band efforts: clean, conceptually clear, and absolutely true to the composer. However, my absolute favorite Moncur record is New Africa. That's everything right there. It has the grainy-ness and charismatic mystery of the best early free jazz, but the crackling ensemble interplay and the simple depth of the compositions are not merely a vibe. It's "just" a document of some of the best musicians who ever lived showing up to play. RIP - and thank you.
  3. I spent part of my youth around the corner from this place, and I took guitar lessons one building over for something like four years. I purchased my main instrument at Norm's back in 2000. The staff has always been cordial and positive - a not-insignificant thing, considering how forbidding and intimidating "guitar culture" can feel for new initiates. I most certainly wish Norm and co. well.
  4. Hello, all- I've had the good fortune to curate a festival slated for this coming Saturday, April 30, 4-9pm PT (streaming online + in-person from Temescal Art Center in Oakland). We're calling this one the Unlocked Festival - the seventh in a string of online events. This program is particularly stacked, including: Rova Saxophone Quartet, Positive Knowledge (Oluyemi + Ijeoma Thomas), Tom Weeks Trio (with Kazuto Sato + Gerald Cleaver), duo B. (Lisa Mezzcappa + Jason Levis), Lenora Lee + Francis Wong, Tongo Eisen-Martin, Evicshen, and Grex As with previous events, all proceeds will be directed to charitable causes, including Oakland arts spaces (Temescal Art Center and Oaktown Jazz Workshops) and Ukraine Relief. As has long been the case, proceeds collected from Grex's bandcamp sales will be directed to the Milford Graves Memorial Fund. Our streaming link and further details may be accessed here: https://www.grexsounds.com/unlocked.html Best wishes to all, K/ep1
  5. In a practical sense, I wouldn't doubt that that trio operated democratically. From my understanding, notation aside, Cecil gave little to no instruction regarding what the other instrumentalists were to play. I also don't think there there was any conscious subsumption into Cecil's concept on the part of Cyrille, Lyons, etc. It was a perfectly synergistic trio built out of consistent practice, intuitive musicality, and a little bit of unteachable genius. That being said, I think you could have assembled a different trio that put in exactly the same amount of work and not achieved a similar level of success. It's like these three guys were built for this particular music, and a big part of that is the way that Andrew is willing and able to play around (and not just under or on top of) Cecil. Big confession, but I vastly prefer this grouping to the Nefertiti trio. Sunny Murray was basically the first person to indisputably solve a really difficult problem (i.e., the role of free drums in a jazz-inflected context), but I think it's arguable from the peanut gallery that he didn't have the comprehensive technical ability to take that concept to its logical conclusion - that was down to guys like Cyrille, Oxley, Moholo, and others. All due respect to Sunny, of course - this thesis just feels supported by the recorded evidence.
  6. Akisakila is the paradigm for a certain type of collective improvisation, and the trio sounds unbelievable on it. My principal gripe is that it's recorded so terribly. Yes, all three instruments are fully audible - and I'd rather have a lo-fidelity masterpiece than crystal clear mediocrity - but the recording imbalances the energy a little too far toward the drums. In my very biased opinion, Andrew was what made this music click - but he was a horizontal improviser at heart, with an uncanny understanding of how melodic line translates to percussion. Akisakila is kind of an energy recording - still amazing, but the mix feels like a bit of a "lie" to me. "Autumn/Parade" better corroborates my understanding of what makes this music click than Akisakila does. "Prototypical Free Jazz" requires that the drummer instigate shifts in momentum, and middling/average free improvisation basically festoons a capable drummer with melodic and harmonic filigree. In the classic CT units, the piano is dictating the ideational energy, and so the drummer doesn't really have to play at any given moment. Cecil is the head of the snake - in Steph Curry fashion, so to speak - and so the drummer is free to operate as either a rhythmic driver or a surrogate melodist. It so happens that Andrew was and is, like, the all time best at operating in that liminal space. The Return Concert is an exceptional document of this.
  7. Prompted (in recursive fashion) by Clifford's Instagram post, I thought I'd swing by to see what the prevailing opinion on this was/is. IMO, this is one of the most extraordinary historical jazz releases of recent memory. The long track ("Autumn/Parade") could very well be the best thing on the program - which is saying something, considering how superlative the original Spring of Two Blue-J's is. This music is just exceptionally refined. When I last spoke to Andrew Cyrille about this, he mentioned that the core trio (Cecil/Lyons/Cyrille) played together a lot, even though documentation was (and remains) relatively scarce. The quartet with Sam Rivers had a bit of the same dynamism and ideational density, but by '73, the band had been working together for so long that the music manifested in a different way. The roles are so clearly defined on this new release - with Sirone slotting very elegantly into the mix - and much of the music is starkly gestural where you would expect it to be "merely" energetic. If there was any doubt that Cecil's music was motivic at its core, this release would put any uncertainties to rest. The level of communication here, with all four wheels of the car playing independently but in consort, is just completely off the chain. Seriously - this music should be on the Voyager spacecraft.
  8. Whoa, hold on a sec - maybe this is what you're getting at, but Sanborn and Kenny G should not be mentioned in the same breath. Each is an ethos, but whereas Sanborn is a reduction (or maybe simplification) of principles with some very legitimate provenance, Kenny G is almost sui generis with regard to the methodology and consistency of his blandness. That Kenny G lacks artistic validity says more about the frameworks with which we are geared to curate genre than it does Kenny G himself. Of course Kenny G sucks. He sucks in the same way that a Huffy Green Machine is not a suitable substitute for a high end Ducati. IMO the "real problem" is that [the universal we] tend to conflate visual markers with cultural identities. Kenny G, John Coltrane, and Braxton all play soprano, so of course they play the same kind of music. Keep in mind that I'm not arguing that Kenny G's music has any sort of inherent value - more that the controversy over his popularity overlays a more interesting discussion about how expressive art suffers in the face of commodification.
  9. Very early impressions - and keep in mind that all of this is visceral rather than considered, because my opinion could easily shift upon re-listen: This is a remarkable document that I feel tremendously privileged to have heard. I also think that mileage may vary. This is closer to The Olatunji Concert or Offering than it is the Antibes A Love Supreme. By this I mean that the imperfection of the recording is just distracting enough to color my view of the music, and insofar as Coltrane's voice is the focal point of the suite, having him recessed so far into the background sort of untethers things. I'd almost trade the sound on this for Olatunji, because although Olatunji is extremely harsh, the energy of the performance communicates the intentions of the performers very clearly. There's that aphoristic phrase (that I cannot source - maybe someone else will remember) about Albert Ayler's recordings being mere "rumors" of the real thing, and that's kind of how I feel about these archival Coltrane recordings. The recording is itself something that is meant to be consumed, because the actual live energy is lost to time. In the case of something like Olatunji, you can (a) choose to listen selectively, mentally blocking out all the clipping and filling in the blanks when it comes to inaudible piano, bass, etc., or (b) you can listen to Olatunji for what it is - i.e., a monolith of poorly recorded free jazz that that is played with virtuosity and passion. It's up to you. Most of the time, I choose the latter. That being said, the rhythm section on the Seattle A Love Supreme is recorded in stunning clarity, the restoration and mastering are exceptionally clean, and there are episodes of music here that are truly worthy of the hagiographic hype. Pharoah's solo on "Acknowledgement" is astonishing, in main because there isn't much other opportunity to hear the Pharoah of this vintage square his extended technique-focused playing into a groove this insistent. Carlos Ward's solo on "Resolution" is also a standout, superficially reminiscent of Dolphy on the Vanguard recordings - but much more abstract. There is also a lot of period appropriate filigree - including miscellaneous percussion on "Acknowledgement" and a battery of bass duos - that feels well-integrated. Under certain circumstances, I'd think that this was the best "new" Coltrane release in decades. At this moment - and I'm ashamed to even be typing this - I could use slightly less Elvin Jones and a lot more Trane. A Love Supreme may have been a collective effort, but that effort hinged on a kind of balance between pieces that feels - in this moment - absent on this recording. As it is, this is "just" a really, really good live Coltrane record - and a worthy appendix to Live In Seattle.
  10. I grabbed this album just a couple of days ago and have not been able to stop listening to it. It is exceptional. Maybe the biggest compliment I can give to this album is that it sounds nothing like Nommo and everything like both a Jason Moran record and a Milford Graves record - which is to say that it feels spontaneous, experimental, and intimate - basically everything you could ask for from a freely improvised duo. But - perhaps my favorite aspect of the album is that it is constructed and sequenced like a complete work (rather than a "mere" document). The processed tracks and Mind-Body pieces feel like they're part of a whole, and they tap into an aspect of the Professor's work that often goes ignored by musical appraisals of his oeuvre - i.e., the intersection between biology and technology as a platform for sound (see below). To put it another way, this record underlines something wildly deep about MG's approach - which is to say that insofar as all musical instruments are a kind of technology, bridging the gap between the inorganic/mechanical and the organic is a necessary part of producing art. The Professor did a lifetime of work in order to get us closer to ourselves. Legit album of the year for me (so far).
  11. I'll freely admit that I have my issues with victim mentality in free music, and I've had to excuse myself from certain situations where this psychology is the dominant one. More often than not, communities that freely trade in this language are undone by circular, feudalistic infighting. On the other hand - and this is a bit of a truism - but hustle is hard. "As Serious As Your Life" is not a joke. The danger/trouble with fighting back is that you're going to go through a world of hurt. Lots of people are cut out for this, but twice as many people are not - and I don't begrudge that, personally.
  12. I want to preface by saying that Sonny is my favorite guitarist (and so my #1 guy on my chosen instrument, which is a whole thing). All this is to say that I don't want to talk out of my ass or out of turn here - bone of this is a knock on his body of work so much as a study on, as we're discussing, life practices in out music. Points taken, though I do want to qualify that a lot of Sonny's solo forays into commercial music were, at least early on, disastrous. The Paradise record + the Savages band culminated in years of virtual inactivity. I agree that the promise of the Laswell collaboration - and Sonny's receptivity to the prospect of drastically reworking his technique - basically concretized his place in history. At the same time, this feels like an instance in which the destination validates the journey, and the story feels a little more complex- I have a sense (loosely corroborated in any number of interviews) that Sonny couldn't really play guitar in the early 60s. He was a fantastic rhythm player and a daring conceptualist with a very limited understanding of linear construction. From a guitar player's perspective, I sense that Sonny's later success, paired with the advent of readily accessible electronics, more or less forced him to undertake an accelerated, if wildly delayed, regimen of self-improvement. Had he had the time, perspective, initiative or whatever to recognize his limitations sooner, who knows what we could have gotten. It's an academic line of inquiry, but - and this was kind of my point above - we've never had to ask this kind of question about, say, Ornette, Cecil, or Milford. Those guys were self-starters and deserve their flowers. To put it a different way, I've had personal and musical experiences with plenty of guys who never got to that second gear that Sonny found, and I also feel that musicians of this ilk are not self-sabotaging so much as a little unlucky.
  13. Not to get too far off topic, but I've shifted on this issue a bit. There is indeed such a thing as aggressive (and possibly arrogant) confrontationalism, the likes of which celebrate the alienation of audiences and the abject obscurity of the artist. At the same time, I feel (anecdotally) that 90% of musicians who operate in fringe or avant musics aren't trying to be so out that they, as you suggest, drift into oblivion. Consider someone like Sonny Sharrock, whose influence is absolutely everywhere - had it not been for Herbie Mann and Bill Laswell, certain epochal stages in the development of improvised guitar may have been lost to obscurity. Consider, too, that Sonny had (and I'm paraphrasing his words here) tried to "sell out" on numerous occasions - only to fail at every turn. Does this make Sonny one of the players with "personal discipline and clarity of vision," or is he just one of the lucky ones? Does it matter? In a historical context, that's all the more opportunity to celebrate artists who have managed, by force of will or ingenuity, to survive without compromising their art. Guys like Milford and Cecil toiled in obscurity for long stretches of their careers, going essentially undocumented for years at a time. It's virtually impossible for this to happen (unless by intention) in 2021. Milford kept his head above water because he was - and I use these words very selectively - a fucking genius. In short, I wouldn't knock any number of guys who, say, appeared on an ESP Disk session and proceeded to almost completely wipe out - they may not have been the "special" ones, but they're also victims of circumstance to a degree.
  14. There are a couple of (relevant) points to be made: (1) I think it's reasonable to argue that the social divisions between "avant-garde" and "mainstream" have been a little overexaggerated by history, and (2) the well-traded narrative that free jazz was about dissolving conventions is only a partial truth. Time and historical perspective (it's been, what, 50-60 years?!) have clarified that free jazz as a gestalt was more about expanding the repertoire of possibilities in the music rather than erasing the technical innovations of the music(s) that preceded it. The folks who survived the music's heyday each had coherent, often evolving artistic concepts - e.g., Ornette, Cecil, Sun Ra, etc. It also bears notice that a lot of people commonly associated with the genre have balked at the "free music" as praxis thing (Sun Ra: "there is no freedom in the universe"). Moreover, many of the folks who did and do strongly associate with the "free music" appellation often had political (as opposed to strictly aesthetic) reasons for doing so - which is a big reason why we're forced to compartmentalize the music of the South Africans, Europeans, etc. into a different genre category. With regard to my point above, who in 1959 would have guessed that Don Cherry was about a million things besides playing trumpet? I think there were a lot of surface attempts at the turn of the 1960s to bottle the sound of early free jazz and reapply it in more palatable, marketable, or controllable ways. (I don't mean to rag on the guy, but I keep thinking about Jimmy Woods in this regard.) This was, of course, a failing venture, as - again - the chief innovation of free jazz was in expanding the range of expressive possibilities in the music. Cats like Mingus understood this basic idea and found ways to use the innovations of Ornette, Cherry, etc. to grow their own work.
  15. Pretty gutting news - his work was a big part of my youth. Not to take this conversation in that direction, but more recognition of a feat of consequence: anecdotally, he seemed like one of only a handful of comedians who could engender positive feelings from both sides of the political spectrum. The fact that he was able to do what he did - so hilariously, and artfully enough to build a kind of consensus - is remarkable.
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