“Anything too stupid to be said can be sung”
—attributed to Voltaire by Stuart Krusee
“Sometimes seeing takes over”
First off, I can’t believe that while in Paris I got busted by the Métro cops for the second time in five years. The fine went up to a whopping forty euros. Like the first time, I made collages and broadsides out of the tickets and receipts and managed to get my money back. Lesson: Sometimes getting busted can be creative as well as profitable.
This column will essentially cover what I saw and heard while away, plus some great small independent venues I found or performed in, and musicians both known and unknown that I have heard here at home over the past couple of months.
But before that, congrats are due on two events I missed while abroad: ESP Records’ 45th anniversary concert and the Vision Festival’s 28-hour marathon. I’ve heard from reliable sources that the music was outstanding at both. I’d also like to give a thumbs-up and hearty thanks to Robin D. G. Kelley for his monumental and long-awaited bio of Thelonious Monk.
Before I left town, I caught the Merce Cunningham memorial and one of the best Ornette gigs I’ve seen in years. Then in Paris, Tours, London, and various German cities I experienced some truly great moments, like Peter Brötzmann playing in his hometown of Wuppertal, in a duo with Chicago drummer Michael Zerang at a space called Café Ada. It was a rare appearance by one of the founders of the free-jazz movement in Germany, where for many years he and the other native-born giant, Peter Kowald, were for the most part dismissed. Speaking of Kowald, one of the best gigs I saw in Germany was at a collective performance space called Der Ort, which was once Kowald’s home and studio. The space is run by the Berlin-based quartet Soko Steidle, featuring the superb bass clarinetist Rudi Mahall, a new name to me.
Also while in Germany I performed at Cuba, a non-profit space in Muenster run by guitarist Erhard Hirt (with whom I had the pleasure of playing) that is very similar to New York’s Roulette. From there I headed for London, where I caught parts of the London Jazz Festival with sets by such giants as Bobby Hutcherson and Sheila Jordan, and talks by Branford Marsalis (who was surprisingly enlightening) and John Scofield. The festival was huge, and included folks like Carla Bley, Greg Cohen, Roy Nathanson, Lukas Ligeti, and Bill Frisell, whom I later ran into at Foyles Bookshop. On a boat on the Thames in a series called Boat-ting I gigged again with South African percussionist Thebe Lipere, opposite a monumental though short solo set by drummer Steve Noble (who runs his own independent label). Also on the bill were some young English improvisers like bass clarinetist Chris Cundy, one of several names to be on the alert for. Some great venues in London include Café Oto and the Vortex, on whose corner a street has been named in honor of Derek Bailey.
Back in Paris, at the Atelier Tampon Ramier, I caught a riveting improv set by a trio that included bassist Benjamin Duboc, pianist Sophie Agnel, and Christian Pruvost, a young trumpeter from Lille whose extended techniques included placing balloons at the end of his trumpet and producing sounds I had never before experienced. Later that month in Tours, I caught a great gig that included Australian saxophonist Jim Denley, who used this same technique. That bill also included Larry Ochs Sax & Drumming Core, whose new CD on Rogue Art has garnered much praise, and a final set by Charlemagne Palestine. Palestine played a version of his piece “The Golden Mean” on two pianos, had a stage full of stuffed animals, and shared cognac and stories with the audience. I was told by poet Jerome Rothenberg that earlier that month in Belgium, where he and Palestine worked together, Charlemagne had taken off all his clothes during the gig. Boy, would I have wanted to see that…or would I?
After Tours, Ochs took his group to Spain for the last leg of their Euro-tour. At one gig an audience member demanded his money back, claiming that he had come to hear jazz and this wasn’t that. He then proceeded to get a lawyer and sue the venue. This made headlines and even got into the Times. He was reportedly supported wholeheartedly by Wynton M., who sent him his entire catalogue.
Back in Paris I caught and played with the likes of drummer Didier Lasserre and saxist Abdelhai Bennani, who records for the independent French label Marge/Futura, run by anarchist Gerard Terrones for over forty years now. Didi (as we call him) also gigged at the Pompidou Center with the truly amazing Basque singer Benat Achiary. At Soufflé Continu, a Paris record shop comparable to NYC’s Downtown Music Gallery and Other Music, I saw sculptor Michel Vogel play a wonderful set on Tibetan gongs that he had made himself. Another impressive experience was the hip-hop/slam version of Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens, starring Denis Lavant and Mike Ladd and directed by Levant’s wife. The production featured a bare and very effective Pina Bausch–like set filled with clothes racks, with the six actors changing outfits on stage as they continually changed roles. There was an extensive retrospective of Miles Davis at Cité de la Musique, with photos, clips, performances, and more. On my final night before returning, I did a set with expats Aldridge Hansberry and Rasul Sadik.
And now back to the home front. Since my return I’ve caught Christian Wolff, Joey Baron, and Burnt Sugar, who are rehearsing the operatic version of Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, to be performed in February at the Sons d’hiver festival in Paris. There was the Guitar fest and the Winter Jazz fest; White Out with Thurston Moore; some riveting Sonny Simmons; a recording session with Lee Konitz, Paul Motian, and Gary Peacock co-led by the young French saxophonist Alexandra Grimal, soon to be out on Futura/Marge; flautist extraordinaire Nicole Mitchell, whose Rogue Art release Anaya won a best-of for 2009; Roy Campbell, Matana Roberts, Oliver Lake Big Band, and the World Sax Quartet meets M’Boom.
I’d like to dedicate this piece to my dear friend Suzanne Fiol of Issue Project Room, a fierce champion of the music. Sadly I was out of town and could not attend her memorial, but her spirit will live on in all those she touched.
And remember, for the new year and ad infinitum, the words of the immortal Lee Konitz: “Let’s play off each other. Listen, but don’t listen.” Go figure…