Thursday, December 29, 2011

Kenneth Patchen and the Journal of Albion Moonlight

I finished while home for Christmas in Virginia Kenneth Patchen's "The Journal of Albion Moonlight." The closest thing that I can say it reminds me of is some of Jack Kerouac's work mixed with James Joyce. There are points in the novel that are telling a story, parts of sheer poetry and imagery, parts of madness and of surrealities, and a complete stretching of form to the point of breaking. I think there is a lot to learn from this novel, and I'm thinking about trying to put some of it through a musical filter. Here's a couple of passages I found intriguing, before we get into the musical talk:

p. 156.

“Chapter II

He quiet and unseeing leave nothing to its fate. The useful dimension of the apple-bird-star-saloon-motorboat-naked cannibal-shadow-safety razor-arcade-jewelbox-baby’s ass-green cloak.

A. An owl in a wasp’s nest.

B. The next step is 1917.

C. Why can’t painting be done from inside the canvas?

D. Put this book on a glass-topped table and fire a bullet through it: it will drop a woman’s face in its own blood.

E. Advance the probably question now. Who put the used postage stamp on the milkyway . . . was it Friar Pierre?

F. The marvelous is in the seaweed’s milk: in the hastily devoured washing machine: in the fragile shudder of the bull dreamwolf.

G. It is all-important to know how you hold your hands in sleep.

H. A shoe made of alligator hid eating a poached egg while whistling to a one-lipped junior high school girl. I am jealous of the tent.

I. What crisis do you speak of? The gesture of fruit is not timid.

J. Keep your swaybacked rowboat. The hurricane lamp shall plaster from this explosive house.

Be quick and unseemly learns what he knows before his head gets around to it. Darling girl! Washed all away by the nasty rain . . . “

p. 162

“In future, men will write as though language were their only dull tool – Which is quite true.”

“When the book is finished, then will be the time to write.”

“The experience that is not impossible is no experience at all.”

“In sculpture the artist must learn the ancient law of his stone.”

“Music can only advance when every known instrument has been destroyed.”

“The painter will strive to exclude all living images from his canvases. He will paint only that which cannot be seen.”

I was thinking about doing a narration project with the first section, and adding some music to it, but I found two longer, more Walt Whitman meets Allen Ginsberg list sections that I want to combine and add music to. The first list is "an answer to my critics," and features a lot of "I am, I will, I may have..." all the while there is another text that is more prose based, that follows the list on the side, as if they are two thoughts going on simultaneously. The next list starts with "So it is the duty of the artist to..." and continues with all the duties of the artist, again with a prose that follows it along down the line.

I have a few ideas of how I want this to work, and with what instrumentation, and will be getting to it in the coming week. I will put it up in a misc. album on bandcamp and link it on a future blog post for anyone that is interested in checking it out. I would post the text from both sections, but they're too long (not that long) for me to re-write out, so you'll have to listen to my narration to hear it. For now, here is Kenneth Patchen reciting some excerpts from the Journal of Albion Moonlight.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Grant Gordy Album Review

My apologies for these long overdue album reviews, been busy running around with gigs, holiday traveling, trying to organize some future gigs, and all sorts of other mess of stuff. Without further ado, here is one of the CD reviews that I promised:

Grant Gordy: Self-titled

Before I launch into this, Grant is an incredible guitarist from the Colorado area that I have been fortunate enough to play some gigs with, and this album has been a blast to listen to, because of hearing a different side of him, that I don’t get to hear as much with playing straight ahead jazz music at bars and restaurants.

1. Pterodactyl

The album starts off very intriguing, with some mysterious chord progressions, and lines building into a faster groove with a beautifully lined long melody. The band from the down beat sounds incredibly tight, and works as solid unity. I haven’t listened to a lot of bluegrass (newgrass?) in recent years, so this sound is very fresh in my ears this morning as I write this. Grant has some many great ideas, and you can hear it in his compositions and his improvising lines, a real inventive creativity. I’m trying to picture the flight of the Pterodactyl as we’re getting into a bowed bass section with violin soloing overtop. Really great repetitive ending, reminiscence to my ear to some of the Flecktones music I used to listen to growing up.

2. Channel One

Woah, right out of the gate, there are some really ear-catching rhythms and harmonies. Those are the kind of harmonies that make me twist my head, as they sound out, but have logical structure so it all works out formally! I can’t tell if those are some Coltrane changes, or what, but the violinist is navigating them in his solo effortlessly, and then right into the short interlude/pass off to the mandolinist. I’m only a few tracks through listening to the album as I’m reviewing it, and really want to hear this band play live! There is a breakdown at the start of the guitar solo, really digging into new territory with this composition. Woah again, wasn’t expecting this spacey, timbre-focused interlude into the rhythmic out section of the piece. Killer!

3. Little Grapes

The bass and violin blend beautiful with their arco accompaniment, to this slower pretty melody. As the first melodic statement ends, it picks up again faster, with more active banjo accompaniment, and takes off. I dig this catchy melody! There is a killer mandolin breakdown, into these quick sendoffs and Grant starting his solo. There is nice interaction between the band accompanying him, and the space left by here and there with the guitar solo, and effortless transition into the next solo. I’d be really curious to see how this music is written out, having never played anything like this before, and how quick the trading is going on right now between some of the instruments. I don’t know why, but the lines leading into the out head reminded me of a river scene, and maybe this restatement of the melody could be being on the boat.

4. Interlude

This reminds me more of 20th century classical music, a little bit like Morton Feldman, or Penderecki, definitely stretching out, almost getting to a breaking point, before the final resolution.

5. Motif for Leif

This from the start gives me a gypsy music vibe. I am very curious as to whom Leif is, to get more context on the tune. Yeah, just a nice swinging jazzy tune that the violinist so far is running away with on his solo. Time for the guitar solo, and really interested rhythmic activity, and variation of range, tasty and unique! Short bass solo with some breaks, into a mandolin solo (or trading with the bass?), nice way to break up things. What a cool tune, with a well thought out arrangement!

6. Mansa Sissoko

Having a great violinist and bassist really help with what you can do with these tunes. This opening arco section is a treat, as now the band is kicking in adding to the fray. I’m still trying to feel how the time and groove sit as the mandolin is coming in. The bass arco sound is huge, and reminding somewhat of Edgar Meyer with Bela Fleck and Mike Marshall. As I’m sitting almost halfway through the record, I’m amazed at the variety of music I’ve heard so far, and the different ways Grant uses the same band in different ways and combinations. I don’t know what the title of the tune means, but I dig the low end kinda funky groove and lilt that this tune has.

7. Blues to Dawg

This track features David Grisman on mandolin, and is written for the “Dawg.” Some of the first jazz stuff I heard from back in the day, the acoustic records with Grisman and Jerry Garcia playing some Miles Davis tunes like “Milestones” and “So What,” so this is a real treat for me to hear! It’s a real nice down tempo slow bluesy tune that has a lot of soul. Grant’s guitar is floating over the top, while inspiring some traditional blues flavor. It might be because of the instrumentation, but this melody coming in right after the solos is giving me a Parisian jazz vibe, of sitting in the cafĂ© and watching the French folk go by. What a great tribute tune to Grisman!

8. Digging Hargreaves

This is the first time I’m really reminded that there is no drums and/or percussionist on the album. It doesn’t need it at all, but hearing all that space in the beginning of the tune, I automatically hear a ghost drum groove filling in the space. Man, the guitar is really stretching out on this solo, and the rhythmic accompaniment is blowing my mind! Anyways, there is no need of drums in this band, the groove are so tight from start to finish, that it is not lacking rhythmically by any means. I just realized I think this is a rhythm changes kind of tune, cool beans! Oleo quote by the bassist, solid Jackson! Man, I’d love to transcribe that tune and play it on a jazz gig!

9. The Desert, The Ocean

This tune is composed by most of the band, and the only tune on the record like that. I’m curious as to what direction the tune is going into with that in mind. I’m writing too much on this so far, because I am loving hearing the tune unfold so much, that I don’t want to waste the listening moment with words. It’s definitely taking an aural journey in a new uncharted way. The piece is floating in a foggy sea of memories…. And out of the fog and into the tight unison lines and breaks, that this band is so great at nailing.

10. Goodbye Liza Jane

This is the only tune on album that is a traditional, and the title to me sounds familiar, but I don’t know if I remember the melody. This sounds the most traditional so far, but the introduction to it was still custom tailored for this band, and you wouldn’t hear in a pickup bluegrass jam. This tune expressed the joy of playing this kind of music, and the buoyant feel of being able to show the creative spirit to the world. Peter Kowert, the bassist, is really nailing that deep and heavy Edger Meyer arco sound, more than any other bass player I’ve ever heard, I wonder if he has spent some time studying with him.

11. Lauren’s Waltz

This seems to be the first ballad styled tune on the album, a slow melodic waltz. This is the kind of track that I want to put on repeat, and dig into the emotion that it brings. It’s very beautiful, and very spacious, like a sunset over a plain. I don’t have a lot to say for this, just buy the album, and it really will speak for itself. Again, I don’t want to ruin the moment and the feeling of this piece, you’ll have to check it out yourself as a listener to dive into this sound world.

12. Lila

This seems a two part work, coming out of the waltz, and slowly building into this simmer boil of “Lila.” Quiet intensity, it’s a hard concept to get, but this piece has it. This opening reminds me of Philip Glass a little with the repetitive eighth note accompaniment to the melody. Speaking on the two-part aspect of this piece and the one before it, this album is really well thought out. The pacing, the variety, the tune selection and ordering, it really feels like a well-constructed record, and not just an album of isolated music. The interlude in the middle, and the conclusion coming up give me that feeling of a total full product. There is a storm a brewing with this, like a heavy weighted feeling, not of dread, but a certain somber tone that gives it a different emotional feel from the other compositions. Yet again, Grant is able to surprise the listener by the range and wealth of his musical abilities and ideas.

13. Conclusion

This last minute long statement is solo guitar, that is a hopeful, and mysterious, almost unresolved idea of what is to come. It’s a feeling of closure, but that there is more to come down the line from this musician.

That’s all for this album review, be on the lookout for another album review (long overdue, again, my apologies) of Sam Trapchak’s “Lollipopocalypse.” Check out Grant Gordy’s record though, and if you’re in the Colorado area lookout for his gigs, and be on the lookout for David Grisman’s band when they’re touring for Grant’s guitar wizardy with that band. BUY THIS ALBUM, you won’t regret it, dive into his musical mind, you know you want to!!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Free Jazz vs. Free Improv part 2 (another list!)

I've already collected a lot of different groups, but am adding more things together to make this work. It seems since I started this project of looking at free improvisation, free jazz, etc... I've come to a little bit of a conclusion. To me, or my definition so to speak, I tend to view Free Improv as a musical art that comes more out of 20th century compositional techniques, and Free Jazz coming simply out of jazz. Both worlds though are attempts at shattering barriers, and going to the extreme of what can be done. So without further ado, a partial list of some great free improv albums:

1) AMM - AMMusic 1966

You can hear a clip of the album here. This group has existed since the 1960s, and as far as I know continues to exist via the duo of pianist John Tilbury and percussionist Eddie Prevost. This specific album though is before Tilbury was a member, and includes, Prevost on percussion, Lou Gare on saxophone/violin, Cornelius Cardew on piano/cello/electronics, Keith Rowe on guitar, radio and electronics, and Lawrence Sheaff on cello/clarinet/accordian/radio. This group to me is the quintessential band, they would get together once a week, not talk about the music at all, get their instruments out, and just start playing. The sounds became more quieter and involved more silences as part of the music, the later the band got. There are many different incarnations of the group, but if you want to find more out about them check out the spiral cage blog.

2) AMM/Musica Elettronica Viva - Apogee

There was an early record on Earle Brown's label that featured both groups, each on a different side of the record. Much later in history the band's actually recorded together in 2004. MEV seemed to go more in the electronics direction than AMM, and also incredible at having a huge sound/timbral world to aurally dive into. The AMM musicians on the album are Eddie Prevost, Keith Rowe and John Tilbury, while the MEV musicians are Alvin Curran, Richard Teitelbaum, and Frederic Rzewski. Both groups had more members than that throughout their career, but these are very much some of the core players from each ensemble. Really incredible wild and free music!

3) Cornelius Cardew - Treatise (2 different albums)

I am keeping a thread going so far with AMM and Cardew to start off with. Part of my free improv album list will involve playing written music, as much of an oxymoron as that sounds. Cardew composed a mammoth 193 page graphic score (with no instructions on what to do with it) in the late 1960s and there are two great recordings, to my knowledge, of the piece in its entirety. I have heard rumor of eventually a Boston musician release of Treatise heading by Stephen Drury, but do not know the update on that. The two versions of Treatise are first the QUaX Ensemble, which is a group that Cardew worked with, directed by Petr Kotik, and is the first version ever performed (as far as I know) in 1967. This is a 2 hour version, and is very raw and intense. The other version of Treatise is much later, conducted by Art Lange, featuring Jim O'Rourke, Jim Baker, Guillermo Gregorio, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Carrie Biolo, who are mostly all Chicago musicians. The version of the piece is also about 2 hours long, and features more space and silences, and more electronics. This is a more mystical sounding recording to my ears, like polished, free, and slightly mechanical (not in a bad way).

4) Sonic Youth - Goodbye 20th Century

This is another oxymoron album, that is the band with special guests, Christian Wolff, William Winant, Jim O'Rourke, Christian Marclay, Wharton Tiers, Takehisa Kosugi performing works of the 20th century like Wolff's "Edges," and "Burdocks," Reich's "Pendulum music," and works by John Cage, Yoko Ono, Pauline Oliveros, Cornelius Cardew, James Tenney and more. This album seems to exploit the more improvisatorial pieces from the 20th century and puts it through the Sonic Youth's filter. It's a really wild and free record, that due to the nature of the some of the pieces, calls for a large variety of improvisational settings. This is an incredible record, and I am very glad that you have a mix of rock musicians, composers, and experimental musicians all working together for this large project.

5) Earle Brown - Folio and Four Systems

This is a tzadik release of Earle Brown's music. Earle Brown is another great composer, that did come out of jazz, and wrote different modular pieces, and pieces that put the performer's into new spaces. This collection of some of his freer work involved a plethora of musicians who are paying homage to this incredible composer. A lot of very free and varied versions of his music, featuring Stephen Drury, Mark Feldman, Merzbow, Christian Wolff, Wadada Leo Smith, Joan La Barbara, Larry Polansky, Morton Subotnik, and many others.

6) Joelle Leandre/Steve Lacy - One More Time

Now to get back to the totally free improvisational stuff, this duo record is one of the first truly free albums I ever picked up. The communication between the two musicians is really something beautiful to behold. Leandre is one of my favorite bass players, and i was fortunate to hear her duo with Matthew Shipp in Montreal in 2007. Any record that she is on, is a record blessed to my ears.

7) Peter Kowald/William Parker - The Victoriaville tape

These are two other of my favorite free players, and to me this is kind of on the line between free improv and free jazz, not to be picky. Both played with legends of Free Jazz, both all over the world, but to hear them together as two bassist approaching music in such a wild sonic field, with such a wide range of emotions, the thought of jazz never crossed my mind. This is a recent find, as I have very much been on a search for Peter Kowald albums. As a bassist myself I really dig that in some of Kowald's own solo performances, he would throat sing into the F hole of his bass! Check him out here!

8) Peter Evans/Nate Wooley - High Society

I have actually not heard this album yet, but have heard several live bootlegs of this duo, and their own solo projects, and their bands. These two are younger trumpet players on the scene, and are so much in the sound world of what a trumpet can do. It really is completely mind-blowing what both these individuals, and as a unit can do. Between the two of them they could completely re-write extended technique for the trumpet, so check this duo out, and any bands featuring either of these musicians!

I am running short of time right now, and just want to get this long awaited blog post done and out. I have focused a little too much on the 20th century compositional side, and there are tons of free improv musicians to check out in the world today, who specialize in doing mostly that. I wanted to have a partial list of some free improv/new music groups, and leave it to you readers to go from there!

Here goes:

ONCE group
Foss improvisational ensemble
La Monte Young's theatre of eternal music
Ongaku Kosugi's group
New music ensemble of Davis
Sonic Arts group of New York
Gruppo 70 in Florence
Derek Bailey
Evan Parker's various ensembles
John Zorn
Robert Dick
Mark Dresser
Barry Guy
the list goes on.... but check out as many of these people as you can find, attack it voraciously!

Be on the lookout for some CD review blog posts coming up, and a Zorn interview transcription of his "theatre of musical optics."

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Frederic Rzewski - Plan for Spacecraft

Frederic Rzewski - Plan for Spacecraft

"Form for a music that has no form. We begin with a group of performers and an idea. The idea concerns two kinds of space: occupied and created space. Each performer occupies a part of the space, which can be a theater, concert hall, radio station, or whatever. This space is corporeal and has limits defined by the performer's own body. his materials are the space around him, the objects within it, and his own body. His medium is the vibrating atmosphere. By means of concentrated energy, he excites the air, creating a situation in which lines of force are set up between himself and other persons. These alternating rhythms produce a sense of liberation in those whose ears they greet.

Each performer considers his own situation as a sort of labyrinth. Each begins by making music in the way in which he knows how, with his own rhythms, his own choice of materials, et cetera, without particular regard for the others, or for setting up some kind of simple ensemble situation. This primitive ensemble, however, is superficial and has nothing to do with the fundamental unit that is the final goal of the improvisation. He beings by making music in an already familiar way; he does not transcend himself and does not consider that he is creating anything or doing anything that he has not done already at one time or another. He sees himself as imprisoned in a labyrinth with many corridors; at the center of this labyrinth he imagines something like a movie screen with a loudspeaker; images flash across the screen and sounds emanate from the speaker, both without interruption. These images and sounds are incomprehensible orders snapped at him by an unknown master whom he feels compelled to obey. They are archaic runes and magic symbols whose meaning is unknown - all he knows is that action is required of him. The only action he knows is that of moving from one place to another within the labyrinth: left, right, forwards, and backwards, all the time with the more or less vague intention of getting out.

The images and sounds flashing at him are formulae drawn from the reservoir of tradition, that which he knows as art, which has been transmitted to him in various ways and is registered in his mind. They are like dream-images and appear to have a certain meaning expressed in the form of command; but they also seem to have a deeper, secret meaning that is incomprehensible. The commands are not specific, they are only commands. The response to them is to move spontaneously, executing already learned actions and empty gestures: mechanical repetitions of the past. His mind is like a complicated organ with many keys: an "inspiration" key, a "composition" key, a "communication with God" key, a "Beethoven" key, a "Stockhausen" and a "Cage" key: one for every myth. This is all right; he is a practiced musician and knows that he has a battery of arms at his disposal. He knows that if one thing does not satisfy him he can immediately flip a switch and turn on something else. This is his virtuosity. But he has done nothing to escape from his labyrinth, he is still reading images flashing across his individual mind, he has not transformed the space in any way.

Each performer begins by making his own music in his own way. The result is chaos, a great tumult and confusion of sound, with occasional chance harmonies which appear for a moment and then vanish, sometimes with clashing forces: sounds battering against each other and trying to push each other out of the way. Each person is contained within his own labyrinth. The object of the music-making is to escape from his labyrinth. The way out of the labyrinth is not forwards or backwards, to the left or to the right, but up. To go up it is necessary to fly. The performer must enter into someone else's labyrinth.

Now, two things can happen: either miraculously, by magic, music will immediately result; or, as is more likely, music will not happen, and the tumult will continue and tend to grow worse, or the harmonies will become more superficial. It is difficult to make music. If the magic takes over and the music happens, the entire space and everything in it will be transformed; the audience, too, will be drawn into the music and eventually contribute to it, either by producing sound or by remaining silent.

In the event that the magic does not operate, the performer finds himself confronted with a heavy task. He beings to search the atmosphere for lines which may unite his rhythms with those coming from other sources; he begins to examine his own rhythms, searching for those which he can cast out, hoping that someone will attach himself to them. It is as if each man were an atom floating in space, emanating feelers towards other atoms. Manifold tentacles of rhythm creep out from each vibrating body, catching hold of each other. Very slowly a single, fundamental rhythm, with which all of the musician can join in one way or another, begins to emerge from the chaos. As each person lends his weight to this rhythm, as if to a central pendulum, its force increases. A general oscillation, which forms the tonic for everyone's individual music, sets in: it is as if a giant molecule were taking form out of nothing. The relations, manifold, between the individual parts of this structure make it, as a whole, infinitely richer than the individual musics with which the process began.

The performer finds that he has been transported into a new situation in which there are other laws of gravity. He discovers a new economy of energy; he is almost weightless and is able to move with fantastic ease. The energy, which formerly had been expended in the general tumult and conflict, is now used more efficiently, used to move the giant pendulum. By placing his balance upon this fundamental rhythm, he finds he can devote his energies to the adornment of this rhythm, to its enrichment with smaller and more complex sub-rhythms. Ultimately, the sound of the players oscillating in a harmonic relationship with one another will acquire an unimaginable richness and fineness, completely transferring the individual musics. The spirit, endowed with grace, will ascend from the body, escape from the spatial limits of the body, and become one with the atmosphere in vibration - it will be everywhere the sound is. The space will no longer be occupied, but created. If this desired transformation of space takes place, it will not be magic (which should have happened immediately) but rather the creating of conditions where music becomes possible at the end of a long process. It will be work. The difference between magic and work is one of duration. It is possible that this work process may not take place at all. Two negative conditions can result. The tumult and confusion may grow worse. Or, the performer may find himself with nothing to do, nothing to say: he is surrounded by nothing and in him there is nothing. In both cases it is possible to transform a negative condition into a positive one.

The first case is that of conflict. Here the performer's task will be to give vent to violence in his music, and in an extreme form: to push the conflict further and let it break out into open warfare. He must localize and isolate the sources of resistance to the music, the inertia which interferes with the oscillation of the pendulum, and direct his energies aggressively toward the breaking-down of that inertia. Everyone must become aware of where the resistance lies and that the music is not taking place. The resistance may be in the performers, or in the audience, or both. The experienced performer's secret knowledge is that the resistance is normally in himself. The imagined hostility of the audience or of the other performers is a projection of a negative state, a hallucination manufactured to prevent strangers from entering into the performer's labyrinth. In this case. the performer is already at war with himself; it is too late for negotiations. One side must win, the other must lose. Before there can be peace there must be a clash of arms, a total thrust of the self into the struggle. An extreme state must be demanded of the body in order that the body accept other terms. The warlike situation is merely another form of work.

The second case, that of drifting in nothingness, is more critical because the body lacks the energy to plunge itself into conflict. It is a situation of silent hatred. The performer has been or is being destroyed. In this second case four courses of action are possible. These courses of action are consequences of different interpretations of nothing. Although they may all be necessary at different times, and may, at least within the limited framework of music-making, have no lethal consequences, they are to be considered as arranged within a scale expressing an ascending order of truthfulness and, therefore, of desirability. (1) To be destroyed = to do nothing. It is to deny the possibility of creation, to interpret nothing as absolute. The duration of this state of "drifting" must be as short as possible. (2) To destroy = to make a gesture of total negativity, to produce a change, any change that will transform the state of things. To destroy is to interpret nothing as if it were something out of which something else is to be formed. A negative force is mistaken for creation. The mind cannot see beyond the possibility of a single, blinding act, which would bring nothingness in its wake. (3) To put on a professional mask = to conceal, to falsify, to draw upon the reservoir of formulae that constitutes one's virtuosity, to save appearances. This is to interpret nothing as if it were a vacuum, to be filled with something already existing; it is to transfer something from one place to another, like the convict who is punished by being made to dig a hole and then fill it up again. It may save appearances, but it perpetuates a lie. It is not creation. (4) To go back to point zero = to wipe the slate clean, return to the original situation, begin the piece again. To return to zero is to identify with nothing. It is the only creative attitude. It is to take zero as the common denominator between oneself and all other creatures, to admit the possible identity of oneself and all that is and is not.

By returning to zero the performer reaffirms the possibility of accomplishing his original task. The music continues to live. He may have to go through this experience once, twice, several times during the course of a performance. But, as everything which has a soul is mortal, this cycle must also end. There may be insuperable obstacles which bar the way to music. The obstacles may never be overcome, and the piece will end in exhaustion.

Three possible courses of the music have been described:

1) The goal was achieved instantaneously, through magic.
2) It was arrived at after a natural and necessary duration, through work.
3) It was never found at all.

The third result will be as acceptable as the first two because of its excellence, but with the difference that it communicates sadness, whereas the others were joyous.

A final note with regard to the situation at the beginning of this piece. Here, the performer is not entirely without responsibilities; he does not merely begin to play in any way whatsoever. Since this piece is based on an idea, although it has no necessary form, and this idea is the transformation of space from one state to another state, the music at the beginning must express what state it is that exists at the moment when this transformation is about to be attempted. We consider the audience as being in a state of ignorance. The space in its present state is non-musical, it is merely occupied; the people, including the musicians, are merely what they are and always have been: flesh, bound and finite, imprisoned in labyrinths, repositories of the past, automata. There is, however, a state of expectation, of general anticipation that an attempt is going to be made to bring about another state of things. What the musicians have to make clear is that this change is not just any change, but a fundamental one: the redemption of the space and of everything in it.

For what the audience does not yet realize, before the beginning of the music, is that the space which it occupies is profane, dominated by demons, and that those demons are themselves. Each individual is a worshipper of images; what is going to happen now is that images are going to be smashed and meaningful rituals created in their place. The air is charged with stupidity, complacency, inaction, slavery; it is poisonous, and we have to become fully aware of its loathsomeness. The music now must necessarily be demonic, because demons are everywhere - even in the musicians. The musician is possessed; the first sound that he strikes must be one of terror. The breaking of the silence is a breaking of the spell of stupidity which shrouds the soul. The sound, which may be called "anti-music," awakens the soul to its demonic state; and only then may the exorcism begin, the struggle to cast lines through the tumult to another soul."

This article/piece is found in issue no. 3 of Larry Austin's "The Source" magazine, a wonderful resource of avant garde music from the late 60s/early 70s. I couldn't find the text online, so I typed it up, my apologies if there are some transcription errors. There were a few lines in this that reminded me of performing Edges with Christian Wolff several years ago in a large ensemble. There were moments where various performers were stuck in their own labyrinth and simply moved from one thing that they knew, to something else that they knew. There were others that became so musically frustrated, with either themselves of the ensemble, that they chose to sit in silence, for 10 minutes or more at a time. Then there were few moments of actual violence, where the inner struggle/conflict became too much, and loud percussive noises from one member of the ensemble took over, but was incredibly musically necessary. This is one of the BEST writing that I've ever seen as far as what happens with free improvisation, and what options are out there. Rzewski was a member of group MEV, and an incredible pianist and composer. Check out his variations on "the people united will never be defeated" here.

Stay tuned for more blog posts, one on free improvisation recordings/groups, and another two on CD releases of Grant Gordy and Sam Trapchak.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Jack Kerouac, Kenneth Patchen and Music

I want to start this post off talking about books and seque into music at the end. I have been reading a lot since this last late summer and went through the entire Song of Fire and Ice series by George R. R. Martin, which is the series that has spawned the HBO series "Game of Thrones." Needless to say it's a great read and very addictive. Since finishing the last book up a few weeks ago, I'm finally able to dive into a lot more recent collections and half started books that have been sitting around. Right now I am reading two separate collections of Jack Kerouac, one is a short book of poems, and another is some of his very early writings, "Atop an Underwood." I came across this passage in [I Am Going to Stress a New Set of Values]:

"P.S. Whenever you get tired of everything, go down to a saloon, or a pin-ball machine house, or jump in the river. However, if you do it every day like I do, you don't get anywhere. But who wants, as Nick says, to go anywhere? And furthermore, you can get sick of everything every day like I do and be one thing:--A casual poet with no regrets, no excess baggage, and humour and intelligence and goodnight my old mad masters, so long and forget it. It is no harm. That's the idea of it all. How many times do I have to tell you. Sleep it off in bed, and when you wake up, work yourself up to a lather, world it all day, then go back to sleep it off at night, unless you have a woman with you in bed. In that case, don't sleep right away, but be sure to do so after you've spent. Good night, boys. The Grim Reaper isn't grim at all; he's a life-saver. He isn't grim because he isn't anything. . . . he is nothing. And nothing is a hell of a lot better than anything. So long, boys."

The other book that I have started up is Kenneth Patchen's "The Journal of Albion Moonlight." It is a dark and surrealistic book that involves a tale of descent into madness. Throughout the first 30-40 pages that I've read it has been changing writing styles, and referencing missing pages, and the main character's split personality taking over, with these pointed statements that are more philosophical that come out. It's an incredible read, and strangely fitting for my life right now. To hear the author reading some of the passages go here and here, which were released on folkways records (and I'm currently looking for it).

I found out about this author via John Hollenbeck. The new Claudia Quintet + 1 record features Theo Bleckmann and Kurt Elling which you can listen to some of and purchase here.
Almost all of the music on the album is Patchen's words set for either singers with this sextet. It's an incredible project and I highly recommend purchasing this CD!

I also have found now that Peter Brotzmann released an album several years ago "Be Music, Night" which is an homage to Kenneth Patchen. The group is the Chicago Tenet, which features an incredible array of Chicago's jazz/avant musicians, like Ken Vandermark, Joe Mcphee, Paul Nilssen-Love and several more. I'm still trying to get a copy of this, but you can purchase it at jazzloft's website here.

The last finding that I'm also looking up is a radio play from that Patchen worked with John Cage on called "The City Wears a Slouch Hat." You can here some of it on youtube here, and purchase it here. I don't know much about this, but I definitely will find this soon!

I will probably have some more Patchen updates from time to time, as there is a lot to check out and dig into, but enjoy the links, and purchase some of this music!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ochion Jewell - First Suite for Quartet, Album Review

Album Review: Ochion Jewell’s First Suite for Quartet

Yet again, kind of a stream of consciousness review, like both of my review’s of the Dawn of Midi’s albums. I am simply listening through and writing what I’m hearing.

Track 1: From Dust

The album starts off with some dark meets light saxophone and piano duet with great contrasts of sound. It’s a slow build as bass and drums punctuate the space. So far really enjoying how the tune is building up, and reminds me of the bad plus (part of this is the drum sound, and the bass interaction) with saxophone. It is definitely it’s own beast, and going into sonic territories that are now more similar to Giacinto Scelsi’s music, and then Erik Satie. This track is going through a journey, and I can’t wait to see where the album takes me next. This is some beautiful music! I would love to know how this piece is written out, really great use of the different combinations of instrumentation, so that not all quartet members are playing all the time, from the start and finish of the track. There are flourishes of piano, with heavy Pharaoh-esque melodic weight, driving towards a triumphant end to the tune. The rhythm section closes this out with a quiet coda that leads into the next cut.

Track 2: A Snakeride Through The Fog

This is a great sounding band, and really original music. Moments here and there remind of different things, but this is a totally unique sound. Powerful rocking bass, unison lines, deep pocket, jarring but not jarring rhythms. Yeah, starting to hear more saxophone colors and timbres. I don’t know if we’re on the ride, or riding through the fog right now, but we are in some solid terrain of a crazy piano solo. It’s out, but in, there seems to be a constant focus of playing the written music, and playing freely, but the connection between the two is incredibly strong. Now going onto hear the sax stretch a little more without piano accompaniment. It’s amazing how something as simply as that changes the sound so much (and the way the drums/bass react to that change). I wonder if this was recorded as one large unit (the suite) with how seemless the transitions are from track to track.

Track 3: “…but there goes the baddest, lone-ass wolf I ever did know.”

This is what I’m talking about, free vs. composed, back and forth very quickly, and making a lot of composition sense. The balance that is struck is perfect. Finally hearing some more of the bass coming out of the texture to solo. You can really hear the wood and really hear the full instrument, as there are some chords, open strings, harmonics ringing. This bass player is killing, some of the lines reminiscent of Dave Holland at one step, or Reid Anderson, or Charlie Haden (regardless this guy is unique and a great bassist). The trio is starting to build up around the bass in support, and both piano and drums are comping in their own creative ways. This track has a lot of continuity while going into a lot of different directions through out, sonically very open and coloristic. Accelerating now into maybe a send off soon into the next part of the suite. We’re swinging now, four to the floor, playing the jazz, and keep on speeding up. Here it goes quickening into free sound, while staying quiet and not equally accelerating with crescendo. DRUM SOLO!! I don’t know what kind of kit this guy has, but it sounds like a world of drum sounds. This reminds me a lot of Elvin Jones on a Love Supreme, transitioning from one movement to the next.

Track 4: []Zero-1[]

Rockin, wild clusters, high energy, thuds and crashes, this is incredible!! Deceptively taking the feel down and melodically quiet, and back to the crashes. The sax starts improvising more in the quieter space, and then suddenly builds into the hardcore section (This now is starting to sound like a weird blues all of a sudden; one to the four chord). I really dig the contrast between the short quiet section (like a reverse tension and release) and the longer aggressive section. Band synergy, as everyone is feeling everything together, from the dynamics, to rhythmic play, just taking the sonic trip with ears wide open. Sax solo alone, maybe a foreshadowing of what’s next to come! It’s great to hear this stretch out, what a great command of timbre, facility, ideas, KILLER! This reminds me a lot of Ellery Eskelin in a way, but totally himself.

Track 5: Nectar

Now we are on to more of a Charles Lloyd ballad-esque tune, with a beautiful transition from one to another. This also sounds like Late Coltrane’s more melodic ballad material. Wow what a beautiful tune, and perfectly organized within the suite, to go from the noisier rocking tune, to sax solo, to ballad, well thought out conception. The bass player is opening up more on this and is featured and supported in a clear and inspiring way. This track really shows the depth of the group, and the range of what they are capable of. The torch is passed to the piano now, I can almost picture this piece breaking open and played even freer, maybe that’s the direction we’re going into.

Track 6: Atonement

Maybe this is the freer direction I was hearing after the end of the last piece. There is some really great interaction between the bass and sax and piano sticking out to my ears here. The blend between the bass and sax is incredible here; it’d be fun to hear them play in a duo setting at some point, with the bass playing arco. It is building, rising, sound filling the space, heavy but light, and dying back down into a new section. Sounds like a similar concept of the last piece Nectar, but darker, and more sobering. Unison, repetition, with space, the drums are playing a little freer on it. I’m not sure where it’s heading, but this last idea sounds like it could be ripe for some kind of a drum solo, with everything the rest of the band is doing staying the same.

Track 7: You are my sunshine

I can’t help but think of Ben Monder’s version of this tune on his album Excavation. This is a dark version of it, then simple and elegant with the piano playing it straight, and gives the listener a feeling of almost gospel, but not quite getting there all the way (nor does that intention seem there). I wonder what the story/idea behind this specific piece, and it’s arrangement…

Man, what a great record! Please pick this album up; it’s a great sounding conceptual work that really is in the tradition of the jazz suite, while maintaining a new fresh modern sound. Grab this record!! Check him out at myspace, or his website here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

More websites, and TREATISE ONLINE!

Alright, I've been doing a lot of interneting/computing in the last few days and here's the results:

My friend Thad told me about a site called piano files, which can be found here. You essentially set up a profile, list what pdfs of scores you have, and trade scores with other people online. Before I would go on scridb and look for scores/jazz transcriptions/books in pdf file format. That site is great, but it seems like there is a lot of junk on it, and hard to search for specific items. Pianofiles been incredibly helpful so far, to find scores that would cost a lot of money to try and rent from Europe (only can be found in Europe), and/or don't circulate on interlibrary loan, and/or out of print. I am very interested in curious about how different 20th/21st century composers notate music/ideas, and it seems like going to the score is the only way to find out the method of their madnesses (listening to it helps, but sometimes the process/notation doesn't come out too clear in the writing, especially with open form pieces like Christian Wolff's Edges, or Earle Brown's December 1952).

The other internet of note is that I am in the middle of re-bouncing Treatise to large WAV files and uploading it online to the same bandcamp site that has the Ornette Free Jazz show. So by the time you read this the entire recording of TREATISE by Cornelius Cardew that I made will be online to stream/download. So now there are two albums of music available, live Ornette and multi-tracked recorded Treatise.

I will be updating blog soon with my Free Improv/Free Jazz part two album list, showing my list of Free Improv recordings.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

New Bandcamp websites

Hello all,

Just an archival update here. I have released my dazzle show from a year ago as a free download on bandcamp. You can check out the bandcamp website here, and listen to our version of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman," "Free Jazz," and "Theme from a symphony."

ALSO, my new band MTM has a bandcamp website as well, right here. I will be uploaded music from time to time on that site continuing with our rehearsals and Zoe's concert series. MTM is presenting a performance of John Zorn's COBRA at the Laughing Goat, Oct 9th (sunday) 8pm-10:30pm. Finally COBRA is getting outside of Greeley!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Free Jazz vs. Free Improv (A List!)

I preface this post with a few statements. Genres don't matter all that much to me, and especially as an outsider trying to define other people's music, as everyone has a personal approach to how they label their music. For example Yusef Lateef does not like the term "jazz" whereas someone like John Hollenbeck simply refers to his music as "new music." This is my own opinion for starters, and even given that some things in so called "free music" are very much composed. Let's take these terms now for what they are:

Free Jazz is a music that usually comes out jazz musicians, jazz tradition, or inspired by the first generation of avant garde jazz musicians. There usually are (or can have) very jazz related elements to this music, like swing, blues, specific harmonies (or modes), form, jazz instrumentation, and others. Free Jazz, say in the sense of Ornette Coleman's music, usually involves still swinging (playing in time), walking bass lines (but sometimes with ostinatos), swing patterns in the drums (but freed up), playing a head, having multiple soloists, playing an outhead. There is a lot of form to his music, even if the improvisations are the thing in which the form gets stretched. Listen to "Peace" from "The Shape of Jazz to Come" and you'll hear they are playing that form, even though it's a pretty advanced form, especially for the late 1950s, early 1960s. Even Ornette's piece "Free Jazz" has composed interludes, solo order, swing feel (one drummer/bassist playing medium swing, walking bass lines, the other drummer/bassist playing doubletime). The recording of Ornette Coleman's "Free Jazz" is very free, but it also is still very much in the jazz tradition, and very much follows a form.

My goal with this post was not only to try and define the music, and give some examples, but also a list (off the top of my head today) of ten great recordings of both free jazz and of free improvisation, which I feel are very different worlds. So without further ado, my Free Jazz List:

1. Ornette Coleman - Free Jazz

As discussed already, this is one of the first albums of freely improvised jazz music, with improvised backgrounds, and open ended solo forms (Some solos are less than two minutes, and Ornette's solo is 9 minutes). An incredible record, as well as featuring a large ensemble vs. a combo setting. This is also rare because of the use of two drummers and two bassists.

2. Ornette Coleman - Shape of Jazz to Come

This album was made soon after Ornette's classic quartet with Billy Higgins, Charlie Haden and Don Cherry moved from California to New York. Everyone in the jazz world came out to hear this band play at the five spot, which was their first engagement in the city (those would have been some amazing concerts, wonder if any bootlegs of that exist). These tunes are on the freer side, breaking away from walking bass lines, chord changes, AABA tunes, but several tunes still have a very identifiable in-head, solos (over the form), out-head. It is a revolutionary album, while having a foot in tradition and a foot in the future.

3. Albert Ayler - Spiritual Unity

Albert Ayler said that John Coltrane was the father, Pharoah Sanders the son, and that he was the holy ghost. This is a great trinity of the free jazz tenor saxophone masters (add in Dewey Redman and Archie to this!) This album is probably his most well known, featuring Sunny Murray and Gary Peacock. Supposedly there is an unrecorded Paul Bley Quartet featuring all of these musicians, that did some tours back in the day (I can't imagine those sounds!). This record features more attention to timbre in the saxophone, and a more emotional approach, while playing very folk-like tunes, that are essentially diatonic. There is a lot of power in the music, and a freer approach to playing as a rhythm section. Gary Peacock plays very broken patterns, and Sunny Murray, from what I remember reading an interview in Signal to Noise, was doing a lot of work with studying acoustics of sound, and really exploring that world. The Music is incredible, and I feel like THIS is really what started leading people in totally free music (outside of jazz completely).

4. John Coltrane - Ascension

Sort of Coltrane's response to Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz. It is similar to that instrumentation setup, except with only one drummer, add piano, and more horns. There seems to be more free playing in this than on "Free Jazz" and is built more on chords and modes (which apparently were given as a guidelines, not necessarily having to follow them). There are solos with the rhythm section accompaniment, that always build into large free group forays, but as far as I can tell, these is not a lot of composition involved, but definitely a form.

5. Alan Silva - Seasons

This is something I found (took a long time!) via a great article from Thurston Moore of the Sonic Youth on the avant garde. This is an incredible 3 LP set on the BYG Actuel Label, which I highly reccomend to anyone interested in avant garde jazz. It shows the late 60s early 70s scene in France, when lots of American musicians moved there. This recording features a large ensemble of most of the people involved in the scene, like Anthony Braxton, Steve Lacy, members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Dave Burrell, and many others. I haven't listened to it in awhile, but as a I recall, there is a whole lot of group interplay, individual solos, and it's just a swamp of great free music!

6. Jazz Composers' Orchestra of America - The Jazz Composers' Orchestra

This swamp of sound is also amazing. I downloaded the scores to all of the pieces, and eventually want to put together a concert of this music, but that's at least a year away. This group was founded by Bill Dixon, and led by Carla Bley and Michael Mantler. This double LP features Don Cherry, Cecil Taylor, Roswell Rudd, Pharoah Sanders, Steve Swallow, Charlie Haden, just to name a few. The bass section alone is ridiculous. This reminds me less of a jazz group, and more of a chamber orchestra. A lot of the pieces on the record feature a soloist, like a mini-free concerto, and is very meticulously notated. There are some freedoms, as in specific melodic patterns to play freely, or lines that stay in a certain range was moving up and down by whole steps/minor thirds. Really ridiculous music!

7. Charles Mingus - Presents Charles Mingus

This is Charles Mingus' response album to Ornette's classic quartet. The music are all composed tunes, but the forms are stretched very wide open. This to me is one of Mingus' freest albums, and is incredible to hear Dolphy and him in such an intimate setting, with no piano.

8. Don Cherry - Symphony for Improvisors

Another large ensemble work of mastery. These large ensembles recordings are great, to hear the open collective improvisation, which free jazz uses more than traditional jazz, and it makes the open form/open solos sound more avant garde, than if were just one horn player playing free over a bass and drum backdrop. This record features Gato Barbieri, Pharoah Sanders, Henry Grimes, Karl Berger, JF Jenny Clark, and Ed Blackwell. I just heard a great recording of Dave Douglas with Royce Campbell doing a Don Cherry tribute, with a performance of this piece, featuring Henry Grimes!! This is another work eventually I would like to transcribe, to dig more into the form and structure of this "free music."

9. Anthony Braxton - For Alto

This is Braxton's famous solo saxophone recording. These solo pieces are some of the closest free jazz music to get into the world of free improv. Braxton worked out different ideas and graphic notation to be able to play ideas, while improvising these solo concerts. His music is more aligned with contemporary composers of the 20th century and with jazz musicians. He has a new website where you can exhaustively read about his concepts, and check out what's going on in his musical world, which has expanded to a pretty huge degree!

10. Art Ensemble of Chicago - A Jackson in your house

I personally really like this recording because it was when they were in Paris, and was captured on the BYG Actuel label. The Art Ensemble took ideas from Eric Dolphy, in say being total multi-instrumentalists, and ideas from theatre, and really ideas from everywhere. Like Anthony Braxton, they were really stretching outside of jazz, and combining so many elements to their concept and music. To read up more on the band, and musicians around them check out George Lewis' great book "A power stronger than itself." This band had an incredible pallet of sounds and worlds to draw ideas back and forth through, and really used a wide dynamic range, some very intense quiet and silent sections, some very verbose parts. With free jazz, it is easy to approach it as this high energy music, and want to play everything loud, dense, fast, and atonally, all at once, with no break, and this group really figured out different approaches.

11. Cecil Taylor - Unit Structures

A lot of his recordings early on featured standards, but played in his own style. His keyboard style seems to imitate both drumming and percussion, while at the same time utilizing 20th century compositional techniques, like listen to some of his solo piano works, and Morton Feldman's graphic piano pieces played by David Tudor. Both are "Unit Structures," and use compositional techniques that are outside of the jazz world. I have never looked at Cecil Taylor's written music but have been curious what it would look like. Ken Vandermark has a great quote in the DVD "Musician" where he talks about practicing along playing free to Cecil Taylor solo piano records, and how he would be done before a side of a record was finished, and it would be a 2lp live set of continuous music. The reason he brings it up, is to find a way to make music, practice, develop a system to be able to create music on that level.

12. Don Pullen/Milford Graves - Nommo

This is a rare recording, I think I saw it as a hard to find LP in a jazz magazine a year or so ago. Really great piano/percussion duets. I believe it's totally free playing, and pretty removed from jazz, so definetely on the fence between free jazz and free improv. Also, getting closer into the world of free improvisation, it features more timbrel based, with inside the piano work, and all of Milford Graves' percussion. He plays drums on several Ayler records, and has a great percussion record out there (many great ones at that). Worth a listen if you can find it.

13. Sun Ra - Space is the Place

This was one of my introductions to the world of avant garde jazz. I don't know how free this music is, but I had to include it on the list. Sun Ra and his band were intensely dedicated musicians, always working on their sound together, and working on new music, new ideas. I found a bio of his my first year of college, did a report on him for my communications class, and just really dug into his music early on. John Gilmore was one of the biggest influences of Coltrane (and I'm sure others) and really heralded in the free playing in the saxophone tradition. Anything by Sun Ra will be an incredible boost to your musical sights.

14. Dewey Redman - Ear of the Behearer

Dewey Redman, in his own world, his own concept. Around this time he was playing with Ornette and Keith Jarrett, but it's so great to hear his own incredible artistic vision on this beautiful album. Find it!!

This is my Free Jazz list, I'm getting tired as I'm typing this, so stay tuned for an article on Free Improv, and recordings in that genre in list form! I have a feeling this article will be edited as I think of more recordings to add and check out.

P.S. I was thinking about putting more of a post modern list of Free Jazz recordings, I don't know if I will or not, but the idea is to try and pick things out from post 1975 or so of freer music that is still in the jazz tradition, like Tim Berne, John Zorn, Ellery Eskelin, etc... Mayhaps more on that to come!

Bandwagon review for Quartet Art

My album "Quartet Art" procured another review. Unfortunately this magazine is pretty new and doesn't have much of a web presence, so the following is the review typed up from Bandwagon Magazine, Vol. 1, Issue 7, September 2011.

“Welcome to Greeley, the Jazz capitol of Colorado! Don’t believe me? Then check out Matt Smiley’s new album “Quartet Art.” Self produced at the UNC Studios with Greg Heimbecker engineering, you’ll hear top-notch talent that easily compares to the best anywhere. Matt’s superb compositions and bass playing are matched with Matthew Coyle on drums, Josh Reed on trumpet, David Pope on tenor sax, and Greeley resident Ryan Fourt on guitar. The result is something new, and it’s full of cutting edge and traditional styles that are unique to northern Colorado.

The 14 track album starts with a couple of improvisational pieces, highlighting each member. By track three, we’re planted firmly in melodic terrain with lush sax work on top of solid rhythms. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, we’re launched into an experimental universe that takes us clearly into uncharted waters, and the album clearly starts to shine.

It’s obvious these guys know what they’re up to and how to blend their instruments into a highly enjoyable audio experience. I would not be surprised to find they had a blast as well. The music has a way of being both pure and complex. The production meanwhile is clean and precise. Admittedly, the casual listener might be a bit challenged, but anyone with an ear for the “good stuff” will find listening to this album over and over again, is time well spent.

Rest assured, our local jazz scene is in capable hands and our own jazz visionaries are on the right path. Take a trip to the outer reaches of the universe and return safely back home. Here’s your soundtrack for the journey!

Currently, it’s available as a download at iTunes,, and You can catch Matt at his regular weekly gig at Ace Gillett’s in Ft. Collins, Thursday-Saturday from 8-midnight, and in Greeley, starting August 29th at Zoes Matt will launch his ongoing experimental concert series. Go to for more info.

-Joe Lee Parker BandWagon Magazine”

Another great mention was my alma mater, James Madison University, put a mention in the Fall 2011 edition of the Madison Magazine:

"Quartet Art, by Matt Smiley ('07)

Zach Diaz/Soulspazm Digital, 2011

Matt Smiley ('07) of Fort Collins, Colo., released Quartet Art with JMU albums Matthew Coyle ('06), percussionist, and Josh Reed ('07), trumpeter. The CD also features JMU saxophone professor David Pope. Smiley, a music major and jazz minor, performs bass on his jazz-influenced debut. Smiley says the album is a "journey in soundscapes, half-composed and half improvised." The CD runs the gamut of soft ballads and energetic tunes to sonic adventures like the title track. Smiley wrote 13 of the 14 songs and enjoys a regular gig at a Colorado's (sic) Ace Gillett's. "

Great reviews, and hopefully more to come! As far as the blog is concerned, I will be posting soon-ish about Free Jazz vs. Free Improv, with my list of top ten albums from each musical world. Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Alice Coltrane Quote

The library at UNC got this book in recently, and I'm reading a chapter a day. It reads a bit like a dissertation (it may be just that) and has a wealth of incredible information about Alice Coltrane's life, music, impact. I'm about halfway through the book and found this incredible quote from her that I felt I needed to save here, because it is a perfect description of playing free music:

"Avant-Garde music to be is like journeying across the country until you come to as beautiful park. You say, "We'll stop here for just a moment." After a while you decide to go onward because you know of a nice area ahead, but before you leave, you see a lake that you didn't notice before, and you decide to stay and experience that for a while. Sometimes your moment is there like an eternity. This type of thing is quite prevalent in my music."

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Back to Billings (Montana Trip!)

EDIT: (While writing this post I am currently listening to the Tim Berne Empire box set, featuring his early recordings, which I have a few LPs of)

I got back a week or so ago from playing some shows in Billings Montana with my good friend Alex Nauman. We were there a year ago with the Reid Poole trio with Britt Ciampa and did some shows with Alex and Erik Olson on saxophone. Alex invited Britt and myself to come up and play, but unfortunately Britt couldn't do it, so I went up myself.

The first show was a jazz duo set at Bones Brewery, kind of wicked with all these pictures of dinosaurs all over, and Montana gambling machines (keno and the like), and a psuedo-sports bar vibe with tvs all over. As soon as we set up we were playing "Lonely Woman" and I knew that my time in Montana would be great. Our night of music consisted of Ornette, Tears for Tears, some funk tunes, Hendrix, Zepplin, Zappa and I think at one point we might have even played a standard or two. We closed with a blues, which Alex suggested we play as fast as possible. I need to check out the recording, but it was probably 20+ clicks too fast for either of us, just silly fast (and all over the place on my part).

After this we had some down time for a few days, played some batchy ball, had a few rehearsals, and in general hung out waiting for the next gig. There was a short trip to Bozeman, in which I dropped $100+ dollars on records finding an old Ashish Khan LP (I can't believe I played with him several years ago), some Oscar Peterson, Sam Rivers, Yusef Lateef, Bill Evans, Steve Lacy, Bob Dylan, Charles Ives, Erik Satie, and more. The Steve Lacy LP was his first release as a leader, with a strange group of Dennis Charles on drums, Buell Neidlinger on bass, and Wynton Kelly on piano, playing a variety of tunes. What was strange was that the rhythm section was Cecil Taylor's rhythm section, but with swingin' Wynton Kelly on the keys!

The next gig was at an experimental venue called simply "Pat's Place." It was a shed/workshop kind of small building right in the middle of a residential neighborhood, that you could fit maybe 20 some people in if you're lucky. Pat Epley ran the place, with (I think) Alex Nauman and Matt Taggart. It was a very supportive environment, and had an small but very enthusiastic crowd there to see us play and hang. The way it worked was the act performing would provide beer (PBR!) and charge a 5 dollar cover, to pay for the beer but also so that the people paying cover would get more than just the music. I thought it was a genius idea and am still looking around in Colorado for a place to try out like this (more on that as I work on it). They expressed that it worked so well because there really weren't any rules, or anyone to tell them what to do, how to run it. Also they were starting to get more bands/acts from all over playing there while on a tour.

Our music for Pat's Place consisted of solo sets with Alex Nauman playing first a piece he had written that day using guitar "bends," followed by me doing improvisations with my cassette players, tapes, radio, microphone, junk percussion, hand fan, and voice, and then Brad Edwards playing Coltrane's "India" using a loop station with pre-recorded music and drum set. Brad is an incredible drummer that has been making music for years, playing with people like Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw, Bobby Hutcherson, Ray Brown, just to name a few. After our solo sets, we took a break, and came back to play Christian Wolff's "Edges" and an original piece by Alex Nauman, originally written for two basses and percussion, and from the first note I destroyed the hair on my german bow (accidentally!). I figured out different ways to make it work, because I still wanted to bow different things in both pieces, so it was a great "experiment." The recording came out great, and someone was video-recording as well, which I hope to get a copy of.

The next night the same trio played a standards gig at Walker's, a nice restaurant in town, and we got to play standards, but in a louder/freer way than I am used to. We played several tunes from the duo gig at Bones Brewery, but also the Theme from Mash, Four Winds from Dave Holland's Conference of the Birds, Coltrane's India, and just a lot of fun music. I didn't record this night, and am kicking myself, because it turned out great, and I really wish I could go back and hear some of the things we did. After the gig we hung for a bit, gambled at some keno machines, and Alex won $70+ bucks!

All in all it was a really fun trip, Alex and his wife Jill were such great hosts, it was fun playing with their daughter Sami and their dog Molly, and so great to get out of Colorado to play some totally different music. I was really inspired, especially by the experimental venue and the people I met there that I want to start up something like it here. Also, from playing "four winds" I want to bring Nauman to Colorado for a handful of gigs, and do a gig at Dazzle playing a "Conference of the Birds" tribute show, arranged for a sextet of bass, drums, two guitars, and two saxophones. More on both of these projects to come!

Dawn of Midi - Live (Review)

EDIT: (Fix a few things, like that all the music is freely improvised and not composed, although their next album will be a larger through composed piece. Also changed some of the tune names, and added a little bit more to the post)

Dawn of Midi - LIVE (the album review!)

1 Fields

Great piano sounds, muted fast passages with spurts of drums and bass coming in and out of the texture. The drums have a groovy free feel, similar to the sound Tom Rainey gets in his freer ensembles. The bass player is starting to build a motif and become more active, while the piano is pursuing a melody. The music is improvised, but it’s built so organically that it could be composed, especially as the rhythm sections drops out and comes back in. It’s a dense groove that feels light and airy.

2. Surround

More muted piano string sounds, and quick spotty noises coming from everyone, that seems to slowly meld into a groove. The timbre of this group seems to be one of the first elements that separates this group from most piano/bass/drum trios. In a way this piece sounds like a ballad, but mixed with elements of Steve Reich and minimalist repetitive rhythmic structures. The sense of song and melody is more apparent in this live concert than in the studio album (which seemed more timbre and sound focused). These pieces are free, and they have a strong compositional element, and I believe could be transcribed and arranged into composed pieces. I really dig the interplay of this trio, and it seems like the connection is even stronger from their studio album. The tune winds down with a beautiful coda in the piano.

3. The Black Danger

Great improvisation from the start, freer than the first two pieces, repeating the same note on the piano hyper rhythmically, energetic drumming, and bass drones pseudo ala Charlie Haden. The low end rumble really makes this cut for me, just from the start. I really like how the trio as individuals starts with an idea, or quickly comes into an idea, and sticks with it for the duration of the tune. It is easy in free music to jump around from one idea to another, but the taste and aesthetic that they use is incredibly musical. The drums are accenting more of the phrases of the trio now, with crashes breaking up the landscape of the music. The end of the tune starts to change course almost as if it could go into a new direction (one that could last much longer). I would love to hear how that improvisation could have continued into new territory.

4. While

I like this from the start, sounds almost like electronic music, but isn’t, nice bass drones and fifths, metal noise, muted string piano playing, with a simple held out melody. Sounds both in time and out of time, free and composed, yet played always as a trio, as a unit of music. This could even be a pop tune if it wanted to be. I really like this piece, a lot, it would be meditative, but it’s almost too disjunctive to be so. Winds down like an old metronome.

5. Lapse

Timbre based soft punctuations, like a string of hyphens and commas. This is the sound of murky silver and tin waters. A heart beat like thump of the bass drum, the pulsation of the double bass pattern, the little sounds coming out from the edges. A few chords resound with prepared piano, a spot of melody, a low bass note, some arco bass, all integrated pieces in this complex aural mosaic. The music gradually transitions into a repeating piano figure, with light high pitch bass accompaniment, and little to no percussion, a very sustained texture. I really dig this piano player and the direction they are taking the music. There is always a sense listening to this trio of a composition (tune) rhythm (pulse) and timbre (the great cornucopia!). Seemingly diatonic phrases, that suddenly twist into another world, Paul Bley-ishness. More morphology, the bass takes up with a beautiful melody, with metal factory percussion and inside of the piano machinery and a solemn bass chord to end the journey with.

6. Gravity

Bass harmonics pulsed with an arpeggiated changing piano line that is reminiscent of Steve Reich or Philip Glass’ minimalist piano music. The sparse beginnings build with toms vamping, arco playing that sounds in a cello range, and a developed piano phrase coming out of the earlier start. If it’s free it’s incredible, and if it’s not it should be a composition! It has build ups going throughout giving it a triumphant feel and at the end almost seems to be going into a new direction, but fades out.

7. Leads

Looking at the title I wonder if it means lead as in, the band leads your ear in different direction, or as in a lead pipe, because either way works, the metallic sounds mixed in with the searching journey of the music. There is a sense of “buying the ticket and taking the ride.” Somehow again this sounds like electronic music, but with acoustic instruments. I can tell everyone is listening really intently to one another. Beautiful piano playing, complimentary bowed bass sounds, and subtle cymbal sounds. The punctuations sound like there is a war almost with trying to break out of the music into chaos, but the piano is determined to ride out with beauty. The bass is pulsating a drone in a high register pizz, while the piano goes into a low frequency post-romantic flourishes, building from the bottom up. Great ticks and tocks and ringing percussion give the piece a clock like sound. The piano plays a nice coda to fade out the piece, with the acoustic bass ending a great live record.

If you are interested in checking out this recording of this great band go to HERE for a free download. DO IT!!