"You have to learn all those notes and scales … that’s a beautiful foundation, but then you have to spend a lifetime finding out what to leave out.”
So, dear reader, it’s that time of year again, and here I am suffering in gay Paree while you’re over there in New York having a wonderful winter sippin’ your lattes and, I hope, doing more than just reading this article. What am I doing here, you may ask? Well, I was fortunate enough to be included in a tribute honoring the legendary Albert Ayler. The event takes place at the Cartier Foundation and includes such giants as Joe McPhee, John Tchicai, Evan Parker, Archie Shepp, Barre Phillips, and Joëlle Léandre. While I’m here I’ll have the good fortune of doing the odd gig and participating in a lecture with Matthew Shipp. I’ll also be checking out the Sons d’Hiver festival, which runs from January 21 through February 12 (and will be celebrating its 20th anniversary this year). The festival brings music to many of the areas outlying Paris, and Shipp, Léandre, Marilyn Crispell, Roy Campbell, Louis Sclavis, and a host of others will participate. Another superb adventure is a four-day celebration for Disques Futura et Marge, the venerable, independent Paris label, which will take place at Paris’s Sunset Club and feature McPhee, Tchicai, Parker, Hal Singer, and Bobby Few.
Before leaving New York I caught two gigs at the Jazz Standard that centered around CD releases. The first was the return of Bunky Green and Rudresh Mahanthappa to the club to celebrate their new CD, Apex, on Pi Recordings. The group, which boasts newly anointed MacArthur winner Jason Moran, completely filled me up, and Green’s compressed solos were never tiring. The CD includes Jack DeJohnette as well as their regular drummer, Damion Reid. At the second gig, Michael Formanek led a quartet celebrating his new CD, The Rub and Spare Change,on ECM. Great performances were turned in by Tim Berne, Craig Taborn, and Gerald Cleaver.
Rhys Chatham recently returned to the Apple in performance with videographer Angie Eng, who like Chatham now lives in Paris. They did two nights at the Kitchen, where Chatham was musical director back when the space was located in SoHo. My favorites were Chatham’s extended trumpet work on “Matador’s Spin” and Eng’s live video on “Bacchus in Vegas.” Later that week, at the Abrons Art Center, Chatham, Karole Armitage, and James Nares (a filmmaker who once played with the Contortions) discussed their work and the influence that punk exerted on them in the ’70s. There was a lot said about the banding together of the arts back then and how low rents and no pressure allowed for more creativity, with no thought of that now-dirty word career. The talk focused on the punk and no wave scenes of CBGB and Max’s, and how SoHo and the Lower East Side were meccas—except for the fact that on the Lower East Side you took your life in your hands. The speakers went on and on about how unsafe and dark everything was.
Frankly, that period—along with the recently revived Judson Church period, which resuscitated some giants of that era and provided some startlingly revelatory moments for me—was a part of downtown history that the wife and I slept through. Or we were too busy going to Pollock retrospectives, SoHo galleries, or places like Neither/Nor Gallery and the Gas Station to check out free jazz gigs, always stepping over bodies and bypassing the junkies and needle swaps on 2nd Street.
Another reason Chatham was in town was to celebrate the release of last year’s 200-guitar piece A Crimson Grail on Nonesuch. Look for Rhys in February—he’ll be back in New York for further adventures. And Armitage will do two weeks at the Joyce in April.
A fun CD that recently appeared on the Fat Possum label by Sonny and the Sunsets, titled Tomorrow Is Alright, features a tune penned by the Rail’s own Jim Long. There have also been some monumental reissues on ESP, including the complete Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra and Charles Tyler’s Eastern Man Alone, as well as a new effort by guitarist Joe Morris called Camera. Joe also has a powerful new CD out on his own Riti Records titled MVP LSD, which is a tribute to pianist/composer Lowell Davidson, whose only recording as a leader, oddly enough, was on ESP.
For you Lower Manhattan music buffs who, like me, are tired of schlepping out to Brooklyn to hear good music, the University of the Streets on East 7th and Avenue A, which has been serving the community since 1969, has begun a new series modeled after the Stone. From October onward, there has been a monthly curator’s series featuring some of the best names on the downtown, new music, and improv scenes. The first two months were put together by Wayne Horvitz and Matana Roberts.
In late October, Wadada Leo Smith’s Golden Quartet played a free concert at the Grand Army Plaza Public Library. The drums were too loud and the composition possibly a bit strained, but Smith’s tone, warmth, intelligence, and choice of notes won out. This concert was followed approximately a month later by Smith leading a big band at Muhal Richard Abrams’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians series in midtown. The range and depth of colors Smith and the orchestra employed made it one of the highlights of 2010.
Billy Bang helped end the year by presenting a quartet at the Rubin Museum and a trio at Roulette, displaying his strength and virtuosity as both composer and performer. He has made terrific strides while enduring his uphill struggle with health issues.
Happy 200th to Chopin and Schumann. There have been celebrations all over the city, including the Bialystok Puppet Theatre of Poland’s fantasy/biography of Chopin at La Mama E.T.C., with marionettes and rotating pianists. The piece had some bright moments but left much to be desired in production values and storyline.
Well, au revoir for now, and remember: If you’re going to pull a massive general strike any time soon, do as the French do: Bundle up, drink plenty of espresso, eat a good boudin aux deux pommes once in a while, and listen carefully to the advice of the sages when they intone, “Off with their heads!”Just make sure it’s not your head.
I dedicate this piece to Marion Brown, who passed away in mid-October after a long battle with illness.