“It is a name and not a master I wish to be…”
—Isodore Isou, founder of the Letterist movement
“Every age thinks they are the modern age.”
—from the film Dreams Rewired
“Let’s go buy a Francis Bacon.”
—man to another man and woman,
street across from Gagosian Gallery uptown
I enter Paris after being away for more than two weeks. The train arrives on time. It is Sunday evening, less than two days after the attacks of November 13. I tap out a tune on the train window based on the announcement jingle. Montparnasse station is empty. The streets are empty. The city, empty. The feeling is solemn. Somber. I am somber and afraid. I am hoping to catch a set by Assif Tsahar and Cooper-Moore after my arrival but they go on first and I miss it, so Yuko and I return to Pigalle and have a quiet dinner with friends.
We were in Bordeaux when it happened, staying and gigging with Didier Lasserre, whom I mentioned in the last column. We were stopped halfway through set two, “playing” to a bourgeois audience that seemed not to care much for what we were up to. We packed up and left.
Two weeks earlier, on Halloween, Yuko and I were at a party at an artist squat, La Petite Maison, just 100 feet from La Belle Equipe, where many would fall.
As the days gathered momentum, so did Paris. By Tuesday, things were easing back to normal. I did my reading though drunk, sadly insulting some who were gathered there. I then ran off to one of my favorite haunts, Bab-I-Lo, where I heard the Andrew Barker Trio with Michael Foster and Tim Dahl and a special guest, Parisian cellist Thomas Kpade.
That Wednesday we caught John Giorno reading to over 1,000 people at the Palais de Tokyo. The next day, we did the Pompidou and read that evening in a gallery in Belleville. By Friday, everything except the lights on the Eiffel Tower was Paris again. We spent the final weekend in Lille, gigging, and caught trumpeter Christian Pruvost leading the fourteen piece Le Grande Orchestre de Mussix at the Lille Opera House. It was packed with little kids since it was some kind of free play day event. The bill consisted of three pieces, two by names unknown to me. John White’s Drinking and Hooping took place on stage and all around the sumptuous theater’s balcony, with participants sipping beers, then blowing on the bottles, gradually draining them, changing tones and pitches. The second piece, Things Whole Note Whole by James Sanders, was good but not very inventive. The third was by an acquaintance, Tom Johnson, the American composer living in Paris. His piece, Les Vaches de Narayana, was a witty, repetitive piece that kept elongating the line, between his readings. It engrossed folks the most.
It was a bit of a bang-on-a-can-type afternoon. We left, tired but satisfied, to catch a rideshare back to Paris and prepare for the trip home.
I mentioned last time that I’d elaborate on the piece I heard in Paris by Olga Neuwirth, so here goes. No need to move over Arnold, Pierre, Edgar, or Laurie, though Alvin and the Chipmunks might have something to worry about. Sorry, but though Olga is apparently extremely important, and everyone except Yuko and me seemed to love this piece, there was too much mixing of the artificial with the real. Too much pre-recorded field sounds and genre-switches. One big monumental mish-mosh. Interior/exterior space. Surround-sound. Birds. Wind. Footsteps. Water lapping against the shore to echo Neuwirth’s childhood memories of Italy. Moby-Dick. Storms. Triumphs. Failures. Swirling Rite of Spring-type notes. English dialogue which few understood and which was way too loud in the mix. Abrupt endings that didn’t end, and finally that huge build up to the finale: one big bang on the gong. I did have a great talk with a tiny little old American lady afterward who loved and defended the music yet got my point. This piece had it all, maybe too much so. As one taped voice repeated at intervals, “We come and go, we come and go.” I kept thinking: “So go already” and, “Take my wife please.”
Since being back in New York, I’ve heard, or attempted to hear stuff at the Arts for Arts month-long festival, the Winter Jazz Festival, some incredible events at the Stone—including a week of Ken Vandermark, one of Matana Roberts, and one of Craig Taborn. Heard some great sets: Tim Berne’s Snakeoil at the Jazz Gallery, Tom Rainey and Ingrid Laubrock, and Dave Liebman at Birdland with Joe Lovano, Greg Osby, Billy Hart and Cecil McBee. Dave also played with Michel Doneda, Sam Newsome, and Tatsuya Nakatani at Cornelia Street Café. Also caught some nice moments with Jemeel Moondoc (his almost naïve intervallic language somewhere between Ornette and Dolphy), Tony Malaby (who also told me some great stories), Talibam, Daniel Carter (his big 70th birthday fest put on by 577 records), C. Spencer Yeh, Trevor Dunn, Mary Halverson, and many more.
One interesting concert at a lovely venue, the Cell, was on Pearl Harbor Day, and consisted of members of the revolving SLM Ensemble founded by Sarah Weaver and Mark Dresser. The artists were Jane Ira Bloom (who is always a bit over-animated for me) in duo with Miya Masaoka doing what Bloom called Peace Improvisation, Joe McPhee and Samir Chatterjee in an improv, Ray Anderson solo, doing a composition by Weaver entitled Inner Here, and Dave Taylor and Zafer Tawil doing another Weaver piece, Refuge—for refugees, general refuge, and refuge in music. The evening ended with a small audience discussion about the notion of peace, how fragile it was, and how difficult it was to truly define, followed by an impromptu group improv. Overall the evening was magic, with each and every musician—a master in their own right—giving more than their all. Particularly wowing with extended techniques and overall dazzle were Anderson, McPhee, and Taylor. All the pieces displayed great unity, as well as individual expression, and the written pieces wonderfully blurred the line between composition and free playing. A+.
Everything is not so fine in Wim Wenders’s new guilt-ridden, teenage angst film, Everything Will Be Fine. James Franco as a tormented writer tormented me, as did all the monochromatic emotions of every other character. The Desplat soundtrack was thin, and a far cry from how Wenders described his use of music in film as recounted in an earlier article. His use of 3D to enhance the inner feelings of the characters (as he said in another talk I attended) was completely insipid and unnecessary. If only he had shown the urine-on-the-bed scene in 3D to capture that Gaspar Noë feeling, we could have had one scene worth watching. Sorry Wim, but you’re wrong: 3D has reached its peak in sci-fi, horror, and monster movies, and that’s where it’s still best suited.
Pick up poet, novelist, memoirist, and editor (The Outlaw Bible) Alan Kaufman’s new book of poetry, Straight Jacket Elegies (Last Word Press, 2015), and feel the exhilaration of hard-boiled, down to earth—even tender—language and images: from “I had to go into the night to find this poem [ … ] to bring it back from inside me,” to “I never met anyone as heartless as I am,” to “My parakeet is trying to kill himself,” to “People would ask: Why don’t you write about your feelings? But I don’t have any I’d say,” to “The saddest man on earth tuned guitars but couldn’t play them [ … ] He was the Mozart of silence,” to “I am a story that never gets old named Alan.” Pick up this book and I promise these poems will never get old.
If you still haven’t bought that present for that special someone who needs to know everything there is to know about a certain Miles Davis recording, buy my editor George Grella’s 33 1/3 Books history of Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew and everyone/thing that made it happen (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). (Am I allowed to do this, George, or is it considered crony criticism?) (Allowed and encouraged, Steve! - ed.)
Did you ever notice that when people whisper at gigs they actually think that no one in the vicinity hears them except those they are whispering to?
When seeing, the eye, as it first seeps inward, is absorbed, and is then secreted through the pores, always beginning and ending with the eye. The same can be applied to the ear. So dig deep. Listen and respond.
P.S. RIP Bley, Boulez, Bowie.
Poet/collagist STEVE DALACHINSKY was a long time contributor to the Rail. His book The Final Nite & Other Poems (Ugly Duckling Presse - 2006) won the PEN Oakland National Book Award. His latest CDs are The Fallout of Dreams with Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach (Roguart, 2014), and the book/CD Pretty in the Morning with the French art rock group the Snobs (Bisou Records, 2019). He was a 2014 recipient of a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres. His most recent books include Frozen Heatwave, a collaboration with Yuko Otomo (Luna Bissonte Prods, 2017) and where night and day become onethe french poems (great weather for MEDIA, 2018) which received a 2019 IBPA award in poetry.