“…be honest to your own subjectivity.” — Henri Cartier-Bresson
A movie gangster once remarked, “It’s just money. It’s made up. Pieces of paper with pictures on it.” Then he shot the other guy dead and took his. Another said, “Walmart [itself a kind of gangster] sells to the bottom ranks of the American working class.” Someone I mentioned in these pages told me that what I’ve garnered upon him was “damnation through faint praise.” Am I, too, becoming a gangster?
We know since Ellington’s day how costly it is to keep an orchestra together, and that Duke spent much time and money doing just that. So for Steve Swell, who cites among his influences Cage, Sun Ra, Alan Silva, and Cecil Taylor, and who did the cover art, poetry, and liner notes for his live, Kickstarter-funded Nation of We CD The Business of Here, out on Cadence, getting the disc released must have been quite an ordeal. But the happy result features large-ensemble work at its best, incorporating crashes and crescendos, solos and collective playing.
My Champagne Waltz, by poet Eve Packer and Stephanie Stone, on epherenowmusic, is a loving venture by two New York–based women. For the 90-year-old Stone this is only her second appearance on CD—her first being in 1999 and also with a poet (me). But this time Stephanie gets to stretch out, playing elegantly with Eve as well as performing alone on piano and vocals. Joining in on certain tracks are Daniel Carter and the late Noah Howard.
Arthur Russell’s “Instrumentals Volume 1” and “Instrumentals Volume 2,” from 1975 and 1977 respectively, were conducted by Peter Gordon and performed by well-versed ensemble at the Kitchen recently. Russell, who is no longer with us, stated that with these pieces he wanted to simulate the sound of popular radio and mix it with the avant-garde music of his time. A participant in one of the Kitchen performances told me later that it was “like driving cross-country in your car and constantly changing channels on the radio.” Well, I didn’t get it, and took an immediate dislike to it. After enduring it for over an hour, I did what I rarely do: walked out, as did many others. In the tradition of Bartók, Dvořák, and Janáček, the “Instrumentals” pieces incorporate popular “folk” elements—in this case disco, dance music, lounge, pop, and minimalism—with a vague out-of-tuneness built on rows of overlapping notes and hyper-variations that puzzled me. A constant dull strain of maracas nearly drove me mad. To make things worse, the music was accompanied by a slide-show of mountains, clouds, valleys, flowers, and gushing rivers of nothingness. Music that perhaps was meant to evoke a feeling of wide-open spaces made me extremely claustrophobic. Or maybe it was all meant to be kitsch, high camp, or jokey to begin with. Since this was my first experience with his music I am probably being unfair, but give me the New World Symphony, the Concord Sonata, or Copeland’s sappy Americana. Even pure Bacharach will do, or the theme song from Bonanza on an endless loop.
Recent concerts and tributes include 86-year-old Randy Weston’s “An African Nubian Suite,” with many guests including poet Jayne Cortez and 91-year-old Candido; Han Bennink’s 70th birthday celebration; two weeks of Italian drummer Andrea Centazzo’s Ictus label; a Tonic reunion at (Le) Poisson Rouge; and a celebration of 83-year-old Cecil Taylor including rare film footage, a solo gig, and an homage by Vijay Iyer, Craig Taborn, and Amina Claudine Myers.
This year’s Vision Festival will take place in the new Roulette, June 11–17. The Lifetime Achievement Award will go to Joe McPhee.
There was a memorial for ultimate rock-lit Czech playwright/president Václav Havel at the Czech Center, with performers including members of the Plastic People of the Universe, Anthony Coleman, Jonathan Kane, Suzanne Vega, Lou Reed (Havel’s good pal, who frequented many clubs with him), and the Fugs. A good time was had by all.
Lee Ranaldo’s poetry collection How Not to Get Played on the Radio recently arrived, along with two other chapbooks on Thomas Lail’s soundBarn Press, an outgrowth of the soundBarn, a performance space in Valatie, New York—yet another embracement of poetry and music.
Trumpeter Matt Lavelle has a warm, nitty-gritty book whose title proclaims all: New York City Subway Drama, and Beyond. Composed of Lavelle’s blogs and other sources, it contains tales of his encounters with the rat race, Giuseppi Logan (who, incidentally, will be making another “comeback” at Local 269 on June 10), other musicians, insomnia, and countless stories real and imagined. It’s so real that one forgets any problems like bad punctuation one may encounter along the way. Lavelle says, “I write the same way I play music. The same way I talk. The same way I live.”
To quote Lee Ranaldo, “Have you heard the sound of open rolling tones that can’t stand still for a minute?” If not, as Lavelle’s grandfather said, “Listen to the gift of music”—to which Lavelle replied, “I just…wait for the music to find me.” As we all should, dear readers.