“Nothing more enigmatic than your vanishing voice.”
—from “Ashanti” by Caroline Gosselin, translated by Ira Cohen
“He makes the defective bowl Sing!”
—from “Poet’s Prerogative for Angus MacLise” by Ira Cohen
So I am sitting here listening to one of my new favorite CDs, from a band called Commitment. The music, originally recorded between 1980–83, includes a reissue from vinyl and selections from an unreleased live concert in Germany. The band consists of Jason Kao Hwang on violin, viola, and bird calls; the unsung Will Connell Jr. on flutes and reeds; William Parker on bass; and Takeshi Zen Matsuura on drums. The composing credits are shared by all; the music is as fresh as anything around today, and more daring and melodic than most. The label, a small, brave, independent company called NoBusiness Records, is based in Lithuania, a country probably most famous for producing Rail film editor Jonas Mekas. It will undoubtedly make little or no business in the long run unless music lovers support it.
Commitment recently proved how fresh they still are by staging a near-sold out reunion concert at 5C Cultural Center, a small independent venue that has survived by a hair for the last 16 years. The space is run by pianist extraordinaire Trudy Silver and her husband Bruce Morris, an avid music lover and supporter. Besides holding concerts and readings in a comfortable living room–style environment and serving good drinks and a vegetarian menu, the venue has since its inception supported the Lower East Side community through local educational programs for kids. Here’s the rub, however: Due to a longstanding dispute that I will not get into here, they have been facing constant eviction. I strongly advise you, dear reader, to support this space since it is of a dying and almost extinct ilk. When you have a minute, go online to find out more.
Another CD to look out for is a new duo recording, also made some time ago and also on NoBusiness, of drummer William Hooker and the late alto-saxophonist/flautist/composer Thomas Chapin—a great player and person whose loss I and others still grieve.
Smoke & Flowers is a collaboration between Jeanann Dara and Marisol Limon. They blend genres musically and explore the boundaries of romance and reality in a style that could be described as electronic chamber pop. The Brooklyn-based duo performs with the instrumentation of vocals, keys, synthesizer, viola, drums, and live sampling. Jeanann and Marisol combine their background in the classical arts with pop culture and poetic lyricism. They share vocal and instrumental duties, with Limon on piano and synthesizer, Dara on viola and live sampler, and a rotating cast on drums. Their four-song EP Smoke & Flowers was just released. I strongly suggest you pick it up. It will definitely enchant you as it has this old geezer.
I recently saw two new films about two musical giants. The first, Phase to Face, by French co-directors Eric Darmon and Franck Mallet and now available on DVD, explores in its 52 minutes the illustrious and prolific career of major minimalist composer Steve Reich. The film had its premiere screenings at the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts and at Le Poisson Rouge. Both events were followed by informative Q. and A.’s with Reich and Darmon. What especially impressed me in the film was the interview with Reich intercut with scenes of Tokyo pedestrians during rehearsals for a concert in Japan. In fact, all the scenes worked well, from Reich at home, to Reich and cohorts performing, to scenes of locations around the globe where the concerts took place. I have never been a fan of this music, but I have always felt that Reich was its most intelligent exponent, followed by Terry Reilly. Others in this category who truly shine for their uniqueness are Tony Conrad and Charlemagne Palestine, who performed a crazy duo at the beyond-successful Numina Lente festival I mentioned last month. Later in the week, Palestine also showed his videos and gave two talks. He loves to drink and freely admits it as he downs one whiskey after another while ranting about how mistreated he feels by his native New York constituents (sadly too true, though he also admits how comfortable he now is living in Belgium).
But getting back to Reich: When he mentioned in the film that one of his biggest influences is Coltrane, the other two being Bach and Stravinsky, I opened my ears up and listened to the music with a different head, searching for its correlations to jazz. And believe it or not, I found them. Anyway, check out the film; it is, at its heart, a very informative piece, and perfect for an hour of smart TV.
Speaking of TV, the second film premiere is also by a French director based here in the U.S., Marie Losier. Her subject, whom she took eight years to film, is Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, the co-founder of Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, and his relationship with his wife Lady Jaye. At the heart of the film, which has garnered awards at film festivals in Lisbon and Berlin, is their amazing love story and how, to have Lady Jaye with him/her always in body and spirit after her sad demise at way too early an age, Genesis has kept their idea of the “pandrogyne” project alive by continually altering his/her body. Through extensive operations Genesis and Jaye (Jackie Breyer) took on each other’s male/female characteristics and physical attributes through what Breyer P-Orridge describes as a real-life version of Gysin and Burroughs’s cut-up methods. Hence the title of this 72-minute film, The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye. For folks who love Genesis, this almost sci-fi love story is beyond a treat. He proudly shows his/her now female breasts in the film, and explains that this is the only way in the long run humanity can survive. Here is where I part ways with him/her, though I have heard Breyer P-Orridge talk about art, philosophy, W.B., and B.G. extensively, and found him/her brilliant. Another problem is, whereas a layman might walk away from the Steve Reich film with a bit of understanding of the music, in GBPO’s case if one did not know this complex history they might just not get it at all. Nevertheless, I strongly recommend this quasi-experimental bio. Let’s hope it finds a distributor even if it be in limited distribution.
The sound-poetry duo of Jacques Demierre (whom I saw play some great “free” piano in Paris recently) and Vincent Barras did two New York gigs displaying their virtuosic techniques. The pair simultaneously read a score whose primary components were fragmented language and sound, each section lasting approximately a half-hour, all part of a 90-minute piece called Voicing through Saussure. The entire composition draws on materials found in texts by the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure on various ancient and modern languages. Demierre describes it as follows: “The detailed analysis of the sonorities of the ancient and modern languages, their re-elaboration and recomposition, is finally embodied in a score-text, spread out on stage in its concrete dimensions through the language performance of the two sound artists. The body is where this vocal investigation takes place, digging into the primitive sound matter of language.” They read parts one and three at ISSUE Project Room, then repeated part one two days later at Downtown Music Gallery (which, incidentally, celebrated its 20th anniversary with a rousing array of musicians at the Bowery Poetry Club in late May). These “readings” were quite ear-opening.
A truly heartwarming gig was that of 90-year-old pianist/singer Stephanie Stone and bari player Dave Sewelson at the University of the Streets. The duo had a singalong of standards with the sadly too-small audience. But the two were so freewheeling and the atmosphere so casual and audience-friendly that this made for what I feel was one of the most delightful, poignant, and witty sets I’ve encountered as well as participated in maybe ever. Think of Victor Borge meets Bill Evans with Gerry Mulligan as a foil. Very vaudeville—light, breezy, and relaxed, with the sometimes-out-of-tune singing adding an extra glow to the evening.
Another moment of joy I experienced in the past few weeks was a performance by the stalwart quartet (and still one of my favorite groups) Test, with Sabir Mateen, Daniel Carter, Matthew Heyner, and another amazing and undersung musician, drummer Tom Bruno. (They’ll play again at the end of June at the Stone.) John Tchicai was also back in town recently, and French cellist Didier Petit stunned with his technique and humor. Be sure to check out the continuing Evolving Voice/Evolving Music series every Monday Night; it has now moved from Local 269 to Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center, a spot that is getting more and more active every week. There’s also this year’s Vision Festival, which I mentioned last month, and the Undead Festival at the end of June, which has now spread itself over three days and two boroughs. Go online for more details.
I dedicate this piece to the late Ira Cohen—friend, shaman, poet, photographer, filmmaker, and lover of life, music, and “sunlight falling on green grass.” May his soul migrate to that place where all great souls reside. So listen for the angels breaking eggs as they walk softly in the supermarket by the river bank, leaving their imprints in the checkout aisle while absentmindedly tuning their golden harps.