“[…] to try to be in tune with time without having any purpose.”
“He who gives up his life shall gain it.”
—from Destiny (dir. Fritz Lang, 1921)
Leaving Cornelia Street Café after an ecstatic set by the Kris Davis Quartet, I encountered one of the gentlest creations I have ever met: a red, white, and blue borzoi named Rhett. Like with all good therapy dogs we hugged, kissed, and smiled at each other until he gave me an “I’ve had enough” look, turned his back on me, and snuggled with another tourist in need. His owner told me that his crazy, oversexed girlfriend had sprayed the dog those colors a few days before, then abandoned it and him.
Speaking of Kris Davis, I caught her at the Stone with Mary Halvorson, Drew Gress, and Tyshawn Sorey performing John Zorn’s Bagatelles, and as of this sitting it’s now my favorite set of 2016.
Davis also did two extraordinary solo sets as part of Vijay Iyer’s residency at the Met Breuer (the old Whitney with a new paint job) in March. Iyer’s eclectic month included film, a sound installation, and live music. Highlights were duos between Iyer and Craig Taborn; Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith (check out their ECM CD, A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke); Fieldwork with Iyer, Steve Lehman, and Sorey; and a trio with Iyer, Sorey, and Stephan Crump. In concert the brights were brighter and darks darker than on their CD (like the CD, Smith always sounded stronger in the mix). Smith’s sound overpowered the small fifth-floor space. His clarity seemed, at times, to hover above or expand thunderously beyond the room’s physical bounds.
Iyer alternated between acoustic and electric piano, as well as electronics, in what was overall a well-integrated set. There were layers of anti-melodic melodies from Smith, who completely captured the space with his large, deep sonorities that ranged from solitary notes to clusters of multi-layered sound. He is one of those rare artists that can chart and maintain a course of tones ranging from hard to soft in seconds. At one point the music became purely about breath, pulse, and touch, Smith blowing stream after stream of air into his horn as Iyer played single delicate notes on the acoustic piano, while also creating a wavering beat on the computer. Almost unnoticed, Smith began a moody, tender ballad to close the set. Whether you were there or not, pick up the CD.
I hope you were lucky enough to catch some of the Maysles Brothers retrospective at Film Forum. One of my favorite films is Salesman, a documentary about four Bible salesmen, a true classic. And for those who love music there’s Soldiers of Music (Rostropovich Returns to Russia); Horowitz Plays Mozart; Vladimir Horowitz: The Last Romantic; The Love We Make, about Paul McCartney’s concert for New York after 9/11; What’s Happening! The Beatles in the U.S.A; and the classic Rolling Stones saga Gimme Shelter.
Lawrence Schwartzwald’s photo essay The Art of Reading opens with Amy Winehouse, mouth agape amongst the sugar containers in the now-defunct Florent diner, reading a zine or newspaper. From there we are transported to subways, parks, cars, tenements, and bookshops all over the streets of New York and a couple of European cities as well—catching the exotic and mundane in the simple act of reading. These stark, honest black-and-white photos, which are a treasure to hold and behold, can be obtained at McNally Jackson, Dashwood, and Strand bookstores.
Louis Armand, an Australian professor and author now living in Prague, has also produced a photo essay combined with his poetry, East Broadway Rundown, inspired by the epic Sonny Rollins LP. What Armand gives us, in this small but no less epic book, is his account of the music in photos, prose, and poetry, at times both as abstract and direct as the music. He takes us on a “continuous sound curve,” “where every glass pane in the city tunes-in to a different frequency,” from the Upper West Side to Washington Square Park to the Lower East Side. The black-and-white photos depict every breathing moment along East Broadway. It’s a standout achievement, available through Armand’s Vlak Records.
In Thurston Moore’s 303-page Stereo Sanctity: Lyrics & Poems (Rough Trade, 2016), he states that “Any distinction between song lyrics and poetry is in the mystic content of the music.” He goes on to say “we use our language […] wild or academic to write the poem.” This is a condensation of a challenging, personal evocation of what poetry and song mean to Moore as he cites many examples of how both have helped shape and alter his life as lyricist/composer and poet. The book is divided up into two distinct sections—lyrics and poetry—and though they may differ in form there is an obvious affinity and carryover from one to the other in a casual and gratifying way, with a continuous pulling apart and coming together of these distinct yet often inseparable genres. The information is enormous and intense, and many of the poems incorporate friends and fiends in both the rock and poetry worlds, à la the New York School. Two major differences inherent in Moore are the use of experimental form in some poems, which can only be seen and felt on the page, and the use of extensive rhymes in the lyrics. This collision can be felt most in the poem “by the lightswitch,” which incorporates many elements of the downtown scene, and how those permeate one’s life—it uses the constant refrains “He hangs out” and “Hanging out.” Pick up this book and find out what Moore means at the end of his intro when he states, “These songs and poems are for […] angels […] and […] friends who whisper and play the fire that keeps us alive together.”
I wrote the following in the dark, on a napkin, at a Matt Shipp solo gig at the Cutting Room that went from good to extraordinary—some of the words are unreadable, therefore rendering a good part of the below perhaps “unreadable.” I was also analyzing it as I was writing, which I felt extraordinarily proud of doing:
I heard these words by a poet recently: “I wrote this piece today not out of desperation but out of inspiration.” So continuing with last month’s rant about “corrupting” the “thing,” I must say that when creating one should, if possible, absorb (IT) from one’s surroundings both internal and external, without trying to presume or predict ITS reasons or intentions or yours for doing so. Above all don’t set out to do what’s already been proven. Don’t try to duplicate or imitate IT but try to distort, elongate, and damage it as much as possible, and if all goes well your voice will emerge, hopefully as something brand new. It’s not whether you allow the thing to breathe or allow yourself to absorb it or whether you like what’s happening as long as you can respect it and go into and beyond IT and your own imagination. It’s about how inside and outside forces work with and against each other to create that “transformative experience where all boundaries merge and vanish.” When creating out of what’s already been created, add, detract, and create a new language based on the old foundations, i.e., the roll, the strut, the gamble. Take from your experience and what’s all around you, or reject it all, then take from what you’ve rejected by “destroying its very essence,” or reject even that and do the near-impossible by creating something out of nothing. In the case of what has become known as basic reportage or journalistic writing, what we get is pseudo-objectivism rather than a subjective or inventive “point of view,” as in stretching the parameters. What we need more of is not a rehashing but, say, a sparkle in the left hand, no matter the opening awkwardness or the chance note missed. Or the right hand and all its deep rumbling and rambling below the surface of sound and words. Or both hands fluttering upward and downward across the keys like a butterfly, barely touching them but causing a light, yet intense ripple effect—a myriad of gestures creating punctuation or the lack there of. It’s not how fast you gallop but the way you gallop with, or without, grace. I told someone recently I neither expect to expand, reinvigorate, or create anything new within the poetical canon, though at times I wish I could write words like the music yet still keep them words.
Miles put it this way, “I listen to what I can leave out.” Good advice.
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.