“All the tins and bottles and papers I throw away and will have to throw away what will become of them?”
“I’m not afraid to talk to myself everybody does but they don’t hear themselves and they’re afraid to hear one another.”
—From the 1970 film Bartleby
directed by Anthony Friedman
based on Herman Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener”
In his long career, which includes a brief retirement, pianist Matthew Shipp has done it all. But what has been rarest has been his participation as a sideman or guest. The stints that immediately come to mind are a brief tenure with Roscoe Mitchell and a much longer stay with David S. Ware, who left us way too soon.
As a guest he has shown up in big bands as well as small groups, particularly those led by saxophonist Ivo Perelman. But for the most part he has concentrated on his own solo and trio career. Two recent exceptions are the CDs Alternating Current, with long time collaborator William Parker and drummer Jeff Cosgrove—a new name to me, who initiated the recording—and the Core Trio with Matthew Shipp. Shipp as player/composer walks a fine line between composition and improvisation and truly defines the term spontaneous composition. Without sheet music at his disposal, he can play furiously free then suddenly launch into a beautiful melodic phrase, his own or standards like “Sunny,” “Naima,” or “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” all of which he managed to play seamlessly at a recent concert. His mind, as well as his playing, is both simple and complex. A true paradox and what I term “simply complex.”
It’s always an exciting pleasure, being at a concert then later hearing it on CD at home. Such is the case with Alternating Current, which took place at Klavierhaus Recital Hall. The CD consists of three pieces, two collective improvisations, and Paul Motian’s “Victoria” (the first time Shipp and Parker ever played a Motian tune). Cosgrove proved an equal match for the others’ mastery, his drumming always consistent, always respectful of the music and the other musicians. The trio has three distinct voices that never compete, but rather play and build with and off each other. Not your typical pianist with rhythm section, but as the promo for the CD states, it is “an uncompromising musical commitment and connection between the musicians” as well as a catalyst in promoting the music’s “natural evolution.” I highly recommend it.
It was the converse with Houston group the Core Trio, consisting of Seth Paynter on sax, Joe Hertenstein on drums, and Thomas Helton—the group’s leader—on bass, also new names for me. I saw their gig at ShapeShifter with Shipp on piano, took the CD home and immediately listened to it. The CD consists of one 42-minute track and comes across somewhat stronger than the live set. I thought Shipp and Hertenstein were strongest, though overall the sax and bass proved to be far better integrated on the CD than live. This is unhindered free music in the best sense, well worth picking up if you are a Shipp fan and want to hear him and the others comfortably stretching out. As Shipp himself puts it, the trio “obviously know[s] music” and “understands the resonance of pitch as it relates to their overall sound world.” One thing I craved more of at ShapeShifter was saxophone. Paynter seemed too minimal and tentative for most of the set, leaving huge gaps. He stretches out more on the CD, but even there I realized that he is one of those rare players who’d rather not cramp the others’ styles.
Hertenstein describes Paynter as:
a very special kinda cat. He only plays when he feels it. I heard from other horn players that they can feel intimidated by his honesty. And with such a massive player like Shipp, I love Seth’s approach to not lean against him or even compete—which would be the expected and obvious choice of most sax players in that kind of situation—but simply [to] float on top.
He lets “the trio play for ten minutes and then just bends one note and stops again.” He then goes on to say:
This was our very first [live] gig with Shipp. The record date was a first meeting for Shipp and me. The record came out beautifully, maybe we were a little overwhelmed with our own expectations for the concert. I can’t wait for the band to play more with Shipp and hopefully tour someday.
That night Hertenstein handed me a disc called Future Drone on the Berlin label jazzwerkstatt: a trio with him on drums, Achim Tang on upright bass, and the ever-versatile Jon Irabagon on sax. It is a resounding set of improv by the group with two pieces penned by Hertenstein. The trio explores all sonic and rhythmic ranges and tempos in a beautifully recorded session.
As for Shipp, he will appear at Dizzy’s Coca-Cola Club November 3rd, as part of Lincoln Center’s tribute to Duke Ellington, and Shipp’s CD—an homage to Duke on RogueArt—will be out in early 2015. Remind me one day to tell you my Lincoln Center Coca-Cola story.
A concert that recently blew me away was the Yuko Fujiyama quartet. Fujiyama, a pianist not heard enough, put together a group consisting of Daniel Carter, William Parker, and Newman Taylor Baker. They played at Clemente Soto Vélez in the Arts for Arts Monday night series. It was a mesmerizing performance mixing fast and furious with exquisitely soft, sandwiching three very short peaceful gems between two longer flaming exercises in freedom. Though pitch, tone, and speed varied in extremes, integrity and intensity always remained intact. The set could have ended with a bang or a whimper but instead finished with smooth modulations and almost imperceptible shiftings of tectonic and harmonic plates. The shifts subsided into tremors before a quake, and then a startlingly beautiful ending from Baker. If you ever get that rare opportunity to hear Fujiyama and this group don’t miss it.
Puma Perl’s new book Retrograde on great weather for MEDIA press is filled with Perl’s illuminations, ruminations, and visions about love and hardcore life on the downtown music scene and elsewhere. She claims: “My assessment is that it’s a deeper look. Like I’m wearing my insides on the outside with a backdrop of apocalyptic visions, relationships past, present, and future plus the importance of the Velvet Underground and all that Lou Reed meant to me.”
There is a running Velvet theme throughout, like in “Riding with Heroin,” in which the original version (edited from the book) had snatches of that seminal Velvet song. Perl still uses it when performing in public. What we do get is “insert the cassette into boom box at I-78 / old deck ate my tapes / all I got left is Lou,” and “Flip the Velvet Underground over again / Look through the sunroof / the stars spell Fuck You / and I ride.”
In one encompassing heart-breath she references the Stones, Jim Carroll, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, jazz, heavy metal, Sid Vicious, Neil Young, Loretta Lynn, Patti Smith, The Cramps, Tina Turner, Courtney Love, David Bowie, Nico, and Perl’s own poem-song “The Heroin in my Needle.” As Perl puts it “I hold books and secrets, collect whispers’ sighs and moans, rewind, replay … tell me again—who you are—what you are … the body remembers and leaves room for ghosts … zombies / … books and secrets.” There are pages and pages of poems that immerse themselves in the music and the life that surrounds, consumes, and helps create it.
Chris Funkhouser’s pressAgain on Free Dogma Press consists of altered pictures of poetry captured by a digital microscope, then projected in response to notes played by a bass guitar and filtered through software too complicated for me to explain briefly. What we see are 510 cut-up pieces like: “speak your voice / interesting weekend.” Rather than imagine what it is like I suggest you examine the documentation of this on YouTube, as well as see how this translates onto the page. Funkhouser’s methods offer new and exciting ground for visual poetry.
I dedicate this column to Gilles Laheurte, architect, artist, translator, humanitarian, musician, participant, and above all human being, supporter, listener, and pulse of music and life.
To quote Amiri Baraka yet again: “The music is here all you have to do is listen … Get to the music and it will get to you.”