“Don’t make the scene. Be it.”
“Use what’s on the page but don’t get glued to the page.”
In the recent documentary Bill Cunningham New York, Cunningham states that “if you did away with fashion it would be like doing away with civilization.” Like Cunningham, I can state that doing away with music would be like doing away with civilization—or what’s left of it, at any rate—though I can honestly do without fashion myself, and think we’d be more civilized with less of it. After seeing the film recently, a friend told me that I was the Bill Cunningham of music, one resemblance being that we run from one adventure to another seeking out and taking snapshots of what we think is It. Another is that we both live in shoeboxes cluttered with our passions. One difference is that he uses a bike while I use my feet; another, that he writes for the New York Times while I write for a “real” newspaper. But before I go further I must state that the best use of music in a film I’ve seen recently was Nico singing “I’ll Be Your Mirror” at the end of the Cunningham doc.
To misquote Breton in a letter he read to a panel in Paris in 1935: Marx stated that Art should change the world, and Rimbaud stated that it should transform life. One person who has tried to do both is owner/producer Steven Joerg with his independent label AUM Fidelity. Founded in January 1997, and putting out its first CDs (David S. Ware’s Wisdom of Uncertainty and William Parker’s Sunrise in the Tone World) that September, AUM’s main focus is on what Joerg now likes to call “avant-soul music.” Joerg—who originally worked for Homestead Records, where he had encountered and produced Ware—started the label to help foster the careers of folks he admired greatly who were considered the torch-bearers of the downtown jazz scene. These include such giants as Parker, Cooper-Moore, Ware, Daniel Carter, Mat Maneri, Roy Campbell, Matthew Shipp, and now some of the younger cats like Darius Jones and Mike Pride. Many if not most of those he produced were, and still are, closely affiliated with the Vision Festival (which this year will be held at the Abrons Arts Center from June 5 through 11, with Peter Brötzmann the honoree for lifetime achievement). Joerg has also become Ware’s manager. AUM’s latest release is the duo CD of Shipp and Jones titled Cosmic Lieder. It takes us on a melancholy excursion through the heart of spontaneously composed song, something that Shipp loves so much to do, and delivers us uncomfortably back to earth with one final, almost unearthly plea by Shipp and Jones. Joerg and AUM will also be hosting the Stone the last two weeks in June as part of the small, independent label curation that will go on for the next year. Many of the greats on his label will be appearing.
As I mentioned in my last column, Shipp’s activities have been ranging far and wide lately, including another new double CD from Thirsty Ear titled Art of the Improviser, live solo and trio performances, plus a short set at one of the many benefits John Zorn has put together for the recent tragic earthquake and its aftermath in Japan.
Speaking of Zorn: Whether you like, dislike, understand, or misunderstand him as a player, conductor, composer, or bandleader, when it comes to being busy he is without a doubt the hardest worker in New York right now. In addition to putting together at least three benefits (two of which I attended) in the past month, he presented his wordless vocalise monodrama “La Machine de l’Être,”inspired by the drawings of Antonin Artaud, last month at the New York City Opera along with short pieces by two other “radical Jewish” visionary composers: Arnold Schoenberg’s “Erwartung”and Morton Feldman’s Samuel Beckett–inspired “Neither.” Here we have a case of three unique personalities who in the past 100 years have all transformed life and changed the world, at least musically. Though I loved all three pieces, with their bleak existential angst, I felt the staging was too BAM-ish and overdone: The idea of two figures, male and female black-suited club types, connecting the three pieces was unnecessary since each was unique and stood on its own strength. Having men in suits floating upward while all manner of stuff—rose petals in Arnold’s piece, shiny boxes in Morty’s—fell around them, though stunning, was distracting. I wondered throughout how the two late composer-giants would have preferred the set to be. Though the performance’s descriptive notes applauded this intermingling of the arts, I found that at times the visual tried to outscore the musical.
Also last month, the NYCO presented a night entitled “Masada Marathon: Book of Angels,” which included 12 different combinations of musicians, from solo cello to a nine-piece electric Masada ensemble that included Mike Patton screaming an actual melody to close the almost-four-hour evening. All the pieces were composed by Zorn and taken from his Masada Songbook, for which 316 pieces have thus far been written. The original Masada Quartet opened the evening. This was truly an epic night, and as Zorn pointed out he used to come to the hall as a kid in the ’60s when standing room was $1.25 to hear and see such marvels as Nureyev and Fonteyn and Britten’s “Peter Grimes.” Zorn is probably the first composer in history to adapt an area of his music to so many different settings and arrangements.
The Japan benefits I attended at the Miller Theater and the Abrons Center, most of which sold out, included the likes of Yoko Ono (who in a TV interview a couple of days after the earthquake said that it would be a good stimulus for architects to come up with plans for new buildings—is that sick or what?), as well as Sonic Youth, Cibo Matto, Dave Douglas, Sean Lennon, Marc Ribot, Uri Caine, Patton, Milford Graves, and a host of others. The two that I did not attend featured Bill Laswell, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Lou and Laurie, and Nora Jones. There was also a huge concert for Japan at St. Peter’s Church that included such luminaries as Randy Weston, Junior Mance, Billy Harper, Frank Wess, Barry Harris, and Harold Mabern.
Numina Lente, an eclectic three-day festival held in mid-April at the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center and produced by Jay Sanders (co-curator of the next Whitney Biennial) and Keith Connolly (of No-Neck Blues Band fame), had a lineup that included such mega-legends as Charlemagne Palestine and Tony Conrad. Also appearing were such fringe legends as Bradley Eros, Lary Seven, and Tamio Shiraishi, as well as filmmaker/prankster/hard-to-pin-down artist Andrew Lampert, dynamic drummer Chris Corsano, and pianist Lubomyr Melnyk.
Speaking of Corsano, one of my favorite sets so far this year has got to be his recent duo with Joe McPhee at the Stone.
Le Poisson Rouge held a sold-out benefit for Japan that included Patti Smith (I missed her yet again) and was headlined by Ono, with some great guitar work by Nels Cline and a surprise appearance by Lou Reed. A couple of days after this I got to see the ICP Orchestra there with the ailing Misha Mengelberg giving us some delicate pianissimo compositions and arrangements. This band, which includes such giants as Han Bennink, Tristan Honsinger, Michael Moore, and Ab Baars, is most brilliant for its wit, strong solos, big-band feel, and strength without ever being overbearing.
At the Jazz Standard the great blues and harmolodic guitarist James “Blood” Ulmer and a six-piece band turned in a stunning set that included such classics as “Spoonful” and “Goin’ to New York,” with Vernon Reid hammering out the other guitar duties.
As part of their 40th-anniversary event, the Kitchen reenacted one of their tenth-anniversary mega-evenings with two great nights featuring the likes of the Bush Tetras and George Lewis, who led an orchestra that included Matana Roberts and Amina Claudine Myers. Also on the bill was Peter Gordon’s Love of Life Orchestra.
My reputation for not liking vocalists is well established at this point, but I strongly urge you to check out Fay Victor’s collaborative new CD, Kaiso Stories, with one of my favorite groups of all times, Other Dimensions in Music, on another pioneer independent label, Silkheart Records. (More on them in a later article, perhaps.) Here, as the liner notes state, “free jazz is combined with classical calypso lyrics.” Faye passionately explores her traditional Caribbean roots in a very untraditional way, and the group, consisting of Roy Campbell, Daniel Carter, William Parker, and Charles Downs, does what it has always done best: explore the roots of jazz to the fullest. I highly recommend this truly one-of-a-kind endeavor.
If you are not aware of Adam Schatz and his Search and Restore organization, check them out on the web. They are an independent group dedicated to bringing jazz to the world at large with such events as the Winter Jazzfest and Undead Jazzfest, affordable midnight shows at the Blue Note, and all kinds of activity around the boroughs.
A most enlightening experience this spring was reading the stickers on one of Thurston Moore’s guitars while he was doing a heavy gig with White Out. One read “School is Open,” another “I Love Cards” (huh?), and my favorite, “Reading is Sexy.” And that’s how I hope you feel during or after reading this piece.
So when you’re dressing up for your next excursion down life’s runway, put your iPod on PLAY, make sure it’s got all the tunes Kerouac mentions in On the Road, listen closely with your inner ear, and maybe you’ll be able to hear as well as see “the light unfading on the unspeakable neither.” Then you just might find your way back to your “unheard-of home.” And as Butch Morris answered when asked where the music came from: “Where’s the music? The music’s here [pointing to his head]. The music’s here [pointing to his heart].”
I dedicate this piece to friend and violinist/composer Billy Bang, who passed away last month.
Poet/collagist STEVE DALACHINSKY was a long time contributor to the Rail. His book The Final Nite & Other Poems (Ugly Duckling Presse - 2006) won the PEN Oakland National Book Award. His latest CDs are The Fallout of Dreams with Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach (Roguart, 2014), and the book/CD Pretty in the Morning with the French art rock group the Snobs (Bisou Records, 2019). He was a 2014 recipient of a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres. His most recent books include Frozen Heatwave, a collaboration with Yuko Otomo (Luna Bissonte Prods, 2017) and where night and day become onethe french poems (great weather for MEDIA, 2018) which received a 2019 IBPA award in poetry.