"This obsessive concern with little weasels is a sickness."
—Rudy Guiliani on ferrets
"When I play a note on my instrument it’s coming through me who I am.”
A friend, whom I hadn’t seen for a year, greeted me at a show: “Hello asshole.”
“But he’s complete,” a woman I had newly acquainted, responded.
“Yes a complete asshole,” I acknowledged.
“No. I meant you are a complete person,” she said. So much for interpretation.
The newly recreated Charles Ives studio at the Academy of Arts and Letters is a must-see. It is housed in the luxurious, Beaux-Arts Audubon Terrace building, filled with contemporary, modern, and classic art. To kick off its installation, there was an all-Ives program in what has been billed as their acoustic-perfect hall. The pieces included “String Quartet No. 2,” the song “General William Booth Enters Heaven,” and the “Concord” Sonata, brilliantly played by Gilbert Kalish. I strongly advise a visit to this treasure. The viewing hours are seldom. Go online for information.
Seeing Randy Weston at 88 and Frederic Rzewski in concert recently, and hearing Ives’s music, I found common ground. They all use folk melodies within their work and when approaching the music do so with intelligence, passion, and density—not to be confused with thickness.
I revisited the Joseph Losey and Harold Pinter production of Accident at Film Forum, a beautifully crafted, oddly cut film about the twisted lives of aristocrats and professors at Cambridge involving their families, loves, passions, and sexual obsessions. To my delight there was an equally beautifully crafted soundtrack by English composer/bandleader/saxophonist Johnny Dankworth. Upon reading the literature provided, I discovered that he composed the soundtracks for Darling, The Servant, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and Morgan as well, all English film masterpieces of the ’60s. He also scored one of the best TV series ever, The Avengers.
Also at Film Forum, two films that had interesting music were the Polish production Ida, directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, and the bizarre Llyn Foulkes One Man Band.
Ida (see the June Rail article for an in-depth interview with the director) takes place in early 1960s Communist Poland and centers around a young orphan about to become a nun who goes seeking her wildly spirited aunt (an alcoholic judge). When she finds her, she is told that she is Jewish and searches for the graves of her parents, slaughtered during the Holocaust. Along the way she meets an alto player who, after a routine dance to celebrate the anniversary of some small drab Polish town, plays Coltrane’s beautiful ballad “Naima.” She falls for it and him. He plays it again for her later in the film, and later still when she decides to test her temptations in the real world after her aunt commits suicide: she and the saxophonist dance in his hotel room to a 45 of Trane playing “Naima.” Of course I was saddened by the thought, “How many folks seeing this film would know this?” But then again does it really even matter? She ends up becoming a nun anyway.
The second, Llyn Foulkes One Man Band, deals with the strange, narcissistic California artist Llyn Foulkes, whose work and self-destructive (honest to a fault) personality are truly a matter of taste. What made it beyond interesting is that Foulkes has literally been, for most of his life, a one man band, creating and constantly adding to a musical instrument he has built which he calls “The Machine.” The music is wildly inventive at times. There is much to tell about this singular character and his ascent and descent into an art world that he is constantly calling out for its deceits, but I suggest you seek out the film and judge for yourself.
Coincidentally, friend and writer Jason Weiss—who makes wonderful paella and has authored even more wonderful books about Steve Lacy and ESP-DISK, and who contributed an essay to a new Foulkes catalogue—gave me, at this writing, a CD by Foulkes titled Sounds from Blding 22. On it Foulkes plays “The Machine,” flexiphone, octavin, etc., along with making wild vocal sounds, and he’s accompanied by three other crazies singing, playing theremin, and generally having a real good time. Filled with disjointed rhythms, it is a weird hybrid, mixing Dixieland, rag, and jug band music.
Eric Dolphy, one of my all time heroes, was honored in a long overdue two-day celebration that included dance, music, poetry, photography, video, and a symposium with the legendary Gunther Schuller. In part the brainchild of drummer and artistic director Pheeroan akLaff, the event took place at Memorial Auditorium at Montclair University. The all-star cast included Oliver Lake, Richard Davis, James Newton (who only spoke), Don Byron, akLaff, Diane Moser, Henry Threadgill, Vernon Reid, and Andrew Cyrille. The two evenings presented music by and for Dolphy, including pieces from the classic Out to Lunch! LP.
As it turned out, some of the music that was dedicated to Dolphy, but had no direct relevance to his legacy, was more interesting than most of the interpretations of Dolphy’s own pieces. Dolphy’s compositions were not always explored properly, and when they were, the music mostly fell flat. The intricate nature of Dolphy’s compositions and solos, as well as the playing of his sideman, are hard to duplicate. But most of all his vitality, which sparked those around him—be it Booker Little (a fire unto himself), Bobby Hutcherson, Davis, et al.—was missing. The folks who came closest to channeling Dolphy’s spirit and music were Oliver Lake and Roy Nathanson.
The symposium: “Eric Dolphy: Architect of Possibility,” barely scratched the surface. Don’t get me wrong, this was a valiant effort and one that I am indeed happy occurred. It led me to ask myself: How does one approach the music of a great artist who has composed complex compositions and whose original, landmark recordings are immersed in and surrounded by unique individual voices and improvisations—including the artist’s own—and make it sound fresh and alive? Can it be surpassed, duplicated, made as, or more powerful? My conclusion was NO, or in a very rare instance, like a great version of “Ascension” heard many years ago, MAYBE—but rarely.
Rashied Ali once asked, “If they can play Beethoven why can’t they play Coltrane?” specifically pieces such as “Ascension” or “A Love Supreme.” I replied that they should be played, but though Beethoven’s “Fifth” can be done badly, it was meant to be played by various orchestras at various times throughout history, and that although the music may feel personal, there was never the feeling that Beethoven himself was missed. In a Coltrane composition the person is very much missed. And since we never heard Bach play Bach, we’ll never know how he improvised and what we missed.
Dolphy himself concluded at the end of his seminal, live, and posthumously released final recording, that, “When you hear music, after it’s over, it’s gone, in the air, you can never capture it again.” Though I knew exactly what he meant even as a teenager, I always grinned as I put the record on the turntable to listen to it over and over. Oddly enough, guitarist Jack Wilkins recently put it this way: “Music is like a portrait. You play something that you are feeling at one time in your life … and it’s recorded and it’s there forever.”
I, more than humbly, dedicate this to one of my spiritual/musical fathers who passed away in June, a man who led the scene when it came to hard bop, hard swinging, hard, yet lyrical playing: pianist/composer Horace Silver. As Amiri Baraka so aptly put it, Silver was one of those people who “rescued the music from the icebox of cool jazz.”
Poet/collagist STEVE DALACHINSKY was born in Brooklyn after the last big war and has managed to survive lots of little ones. His book The Final Nite (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2006) won the PEN Oakland National Book Award. His most recent books are Fools Gold (Feral House, 2014), A Superintendent's Eyes (Unbearable/Autonomedia, 2013), and Flying Home (Paris Lit Up Press, 2015), a collaboration with German visual artist Sig Bang Schmidt. His latest CD is ec(H)osystem with the French art-rock group, The Snobs (Bam Balam Records, 2015). He is a 2014 recipient of a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. His poem "Particle Fever" was nominated for a 2015 Pushcart Prize.His most recent books are Black Magic (New Feral Press, 2017) and Frozen Heatwave, a collaboration with Yuko Otomo (Luna Bisonte Prods, 2017).