“The way you did it is more important than what you did…”
—from Revenge of the Mekons
“The song becomes itself and you hold on for dear life and hope you don’t fall off.”
—Nick Cave, 20,000 Days on Earth
Friday night. Last set. Four young couples, apparently in love, line the walls of the Cornelia Street Café. They are infatuated and intoxicated by themselves and the music. I am intoxicated (yet again) on two gins provided me by the staff. The music, despite my state, is major. Tony Malaby’s Tamarindo, with Michael Formanek on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums. I’ve mentioned Tony in these pages before but can only reiterate that he is one of those rare beings, one who continues to take risks and grow on his instruments: tenor and soprano saxophone. He, in many instances, like ’Trane and Ayler, writes melodies from which, once launched, he just takes off (improvising), ascending for a full hour. I can honestly say that this is one of my top great gigs of 2014.
Furthering my New York/France anxiety, Relative Pitch has released a Michel Doneda CD. I mentioned missing him in Paris in my last article. The cover art and title are based on the Bill Evans’s recording, Everybody Digs Bill Evans. It’s a solo soprano saxophone outing recorded in a French chapel and displays a wide range of dynamics.
Another recent release: the Dave Holland-Kenny Barron duo, The Art of Conversation. I caught them at Birdland for a set, which included Barron’s tender “Rain” and Holland’s homages to Kenny Wheeler and Ed Blackwell. The set ended with a virtuosic up-tempo, semi-free piece, which left me shattered. From there I hit the Stone to catch a set by Oliver Lake, in a trio with Santi Debriano and Andrew Cyrille. Oliver, for me, is one of the top horn players around and can accomplish anything he sets out to do, be it ballad or improvisation. At one point he announced that the next tune they’d play was called “10:22,” referring to the time. He did the same for the final piece, which he referred to as “10:56.” You can’t get much freer than that.
A label you must be on the lookout for is the Bordeaux based Bam Balam Records. Its producer JJ owns a record store in Bordeaux that specializes in rock. The weird stuff like Magma and Can as well as psychedelic and folk. He loves free jazz, but only from the ’60s, though he finally did attend two of my gigs with improv guys while I was there. His catalogue is eclectic and consists of the likes of Signs of the Silhouette, an avant-garde, experimental band from Portugal; Cotton Casino and Joxfield (Japan and Sweden); David Sait (Canada); folk singer Shane Faubert (U.S.A.); Charlie Plane’s Way Out with a talented French female singer/songwriter; and a shitload of Acid Mothers Temple CDs and LPs, in group, solo, and duo configurations. One of the latest has Kawabata Makoto on drone guitar playing in duo with Japanese accordionist Aki, whose pseudonym is “A qui avec Gabriel.” Gabriel previously released a solo album for Tzadik. Track down and support this important, one-of-a-kind independent label at bambalam.com if you are at all a curious listener.
And speaking of acid, if you were part of the ’60s and remember it then indeed you truly were there. So I advise those who were, and those who forgot they were, and those who want to be but just weren’t born yet, to check out Woodstock resident Rhoney Gissen Stanley’s (with Tom Davis) Owsley and Me (Monkfish Books). Rhoney’s personal takes are insightful, sad, funny, charming, and historic as she takes us on a trip through her personal relationships with Owsley and some of the great musicians of the San Francisco Rock era. The book is replete with photos and stories of “Bear”—as Owsley was known—the Dead, the Airplane, Quicksilver, Monterey Pop, and many music legends. Besides producing and distributing thousands of hits of acid, Owsley also invented the Wall of Sound system. The stories are tender, exciting, and transcendent of their time.
And as far as memory loss goes, I completely forgot to remember to go to the Fillmore East Plaque ceremony. Yes you heard me right, they actually put a plaque on the building on 2nd Avenue that housed one of my old alma maters and a true ’60s shrine. I was given the lowdown by friend, educator, and photographer, Robert Sutherland Cohen, who by the way is writing the definitive book on Tesla. In attendance, according to Robert, were about 150 over-60 grey-haired folks, and the music was supplied by Lenny Kaye and Leon Hartman, with speeches by Joshua White of the Joshua Light Show and Tom Berchard of Veselka. We must all thank Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Preservation Society for his tireless work in helping to landmark and preserve our beloved city’s culture.
I managed to catch the last day of Nick Cave’s 20,000 Days On Earth. It was an intriguing blend of fact and fiction, very well thought out and shot, from the “ghosts” in the back seat of his car, to his stories about his father while on the psychiatrist’s couch, to the great episodes about Jerry Lee Lewis and Nina Simone. There were, for us intellectuals, shots of three anthologies edited by poet Jerome Rothenberg scattered around his house and on the piano, including the seminal Technicians of the Sacred. To misquote Cave, it all filters through the brains of “a child, a psychopath and a clown. And if it doesn’t work, shoot the clown.” But why in hell does an ex-junkie rock star with all that bread need to have an entire building for his archive? Because he can afford to.
I also caught the delightful, hard-hitting Revenge of the Mekons, a band, I confess, I knew nothing about until this film. Their revenge is that they’ve lasted some 37 years, despite personnel changes, personal life changes, and an almost continuous lack of real success. To watch their beginnings and all their mutations up until the present is a true inspiration, whether you like their music or not. Besides in-depth interviews (many hilarious) with past and present members of the band, there are also talking heads like Luc Sante, Jonathan Franzen, Will Oldham, and Vito Acconci (who they’ve collaborated with). As Sante put it: “Transforming yourself into a commodity is not the way to go.” See it and learn. I certainly did.
As a writer friend recently put it, “It’s about process, not procedure,” as I’ve tried many times to point out in these pages, subtly and not so subtly. There is way too much of the latter more than ever these days. “Physician, heal thyself.” Or is it “Musician, know thyself”? So listen up people.
I dedicate this to the memory of Manitas de Plata, a major inspiration since I was 15.