“Caviar. What are cops coming to?”
—Clark Gable in Manhattan Melodrama
“Every man is an instrument and his life
is a melody.”
—Old Jewish Proverb
OK. Enough interviews and profiles for a while, it’s time to get back to my old self and since I only have about two friends left (no, my dog isn’t one of them, he died a long time ago), I will not always mention names in order to protect the guilty and innocent alike.
Speaking of friends, I recently heard a friend of the Dalai Lama purport that, according to Buddhism, when you understand the nature of the world you are happy. Boy, do I have news for him. He went on to say that “your duty” was to spread that happiness around and that humans, unlike animals (notice the separation), have foreplay. This in turn makes them happy. Geez, what were those peacocks, pigeons, and pussycats up to?
I saw two masters of different disciplines play together. They’ve done it for decades. One’s music I love. The other’s not really. But here’s the thing: together they sucked. They were slick, commercial rather than artful. The lecturer said he told the Dalai Lama that we must all be artful. The Dalai Lama said he thought that being artful meant “looking at pictures on the wall.” The lecturer told the Dalai Lama that there was a distinction between looking at pictures on the wall and the true meaning of ARTFUL. The two musicians, as far as I could tell, were completely artificial. I realized that artificiality itself can be art(full).
I caught an artist I loved who seems to get better each time I hear him. But I heard a piece he composed in a completely different genre than what he usually plays. Sadly, though well written, it was over composed, excessive. He tried to encompass everything that could be said within western classical music and did it in about 200 movements. I exaggerate. It had its moments...but quoting myself, “What do I know?” Perception of ideas leads to new ideas, sometimes too many. Art taken out of context of the object itself can become a different object, a new source of information and language or just a “cheap imitation,” something to think about or not.
Nate Wooley and Ken Vandermark did a remarkable duo at ISSUE Project Room. The evening started off with two fifteen-minute solos by the master musicians. After the break they came back as a duo. Speaking of cheap imitation, Wooley played the second movement of a composition he based on John Cage’s Cheap Imitation, itself based on a Satie piece. Wooley explained how each piece evolved and how Cage replaced notes from the original but kept the rhythms and vice versa. Vandermark described his piece as being based on filmmaker, visual artist, and musician Michael Snow’s body of work and how it, and meeting Snow, impacted his life. This was a truly exemplary night of music.
ISSUE followed this three weeks later with a sold-out concert by Peter Brötzmann (reeds) and Heather Leigh (pedal steel guitar), and Leigh proved up to the task of matching Brötzmann’s fierce energy. For the most part, the music remained on one bold, high dynamic, but between the continuous sheets of sound/noise/wailing Brötzmann threw in quieter moments, at times quoting recognizable melodies such as Abbey Lincoln's "Driva Man."
Uncovering recordings by seminal artists is always something to look forward to, so when I acquired the Monk CD Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960, the score (which was thought lost) for Roger Vadim’s film, I was filled with anticipation. I had not seen the film in decades and only sketchily remembered Monk’s participation, but always had Art Blakey etched into my mind because when the “official” soundtrack appeared on LP it was from Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. He and the Messengers previously performed Benny Golson’s score for the 1959 thriller Des Femmes Disparaissant (Women Disappear).
What sets Monk’s score apart from the others, such as Miles’s brilliant score for Elevator to the Gallows, done around that time, was that these were tunes he had previously composed, with the exception of the standard “We’ll Undertstand It Better By and By” and the new original “Light Blue,” which only seem to appear here. Since I had forgotten Monk’s music for the film I was hoping to hear entirely new compositions hitherto unknown and written especially for the film, so I was somewhat disappointed, yet at the same time, outtakes included, it was pure Monk, and the addition of French tenor player Barney Wilen added a new energy. After repeated listening, I found much to rejoice in, particularly Monk’s solo playing.
What intrigued me is that in all the aforementioned films but one, there are three common threads. The sessions were produced by Marcel Romano and initially released on Fontana, and with the exception of Des Femmes, included Wilen, then in his twenties, who was managed by Romano. Also within that same cycle Wilen did the soundtrack for the film Un témoin dans la ville using Kenny Dorham and Kenny Clarke—another thread in some of these sessions. The music for those films always tried to capture the tension and dreamy qualities Miles caught so well in Scaffold whereas Monk is “just” doing Monk. I would, however, without hesitation, recommend this to both novice and completist alike.
The 2 CD/LP sets come with a sixty-page booklet filled with insightful essays and a host of photos from the session. Unless I missed something, which I guess I did, I still don’t know why these recordings, which ended up with Romano, were never released back then.
I asked George (my editor) if I could, either in place of or within these columns, write poems; he said yes. So here’s the first one for you, a short homage written for David Murray when he played the Vanguard this spring with his quartet. It was an intense set played to a sold out crowd. David’s moved back to New York and resides in Harlem so we’ll be hearing a lot more from him. He’s also been playing with his old compatriot Craig Harris, so keep your ears open.
panning/ is it really a fallen note/ angel / ? \ or difference / wore bread / hear fed the people \ the patch that thisself represents / where’s it wa(l)king to(o)? \ does anyone? > the real thing > thumb(l)ing > digging deep > pressing & dispersing a)fix(ated sound / for its listening values \ remember even the broken / the angry / & albert was the foregone concluder / flowers heaped upon him in melodious bouquets > the man’s sad eyes pierced by what there was before text / pre-text ambience body & soul / for Butch by Butch / loin straight relative ambition / co-relate to pre-supposing > & walks in disposed of doze irreverent/tings \ lowers the tempo again for Butch crisscrossing ph®ases onedermeant won/wins a real heart true does not need ever enter in as question /?\ whoa & butting butts to steal away from these somber eyes of a grown child who has seen it all / WOW where this imprint was before these barriers were (re)placed & traced > when we the ones who need(l)e them(e) > (his jacket comes off) > the shirt untucked & loose > the sleeves down & buttoned @ the cuffs…a clarity & precision / forceful but not loud for loud’s sake & a stop that never ends / von bush meshnet moon night god child with a Stormy Monday closer for the second set of a powerful night with a genuine artist > encores shouting MOTHERFUCKER funk & it’s Thursday. powerful\\\\\ not
LOUD … loud does not mean powerful.
I first started going to the Vanguard in the ‘60s at about age nineteen. I’d always hit the second set on Thursday night and usually stay for the third (yes there used to be three sets per night), my logic being that the band would be fully heated up by then and I’d get the maximum effect from both players and music. In Murray’s case, he’s always on fire.
MAGAZINE, the inaugural issue of Blank Forms, “consists of never-before published, lost, and new materials that supplement” their “live programs” and “envisions a platform for critical reflection and extended dialogue between scholars, artists, and other figures working within the world of experimental music and art.” The journal is co-edited by Blank Forms founder Lawrence Kumpf and Joe Bucciero. Some contributors include Shelly Hirsch, Joe McPhee (short text and poem), Bill Dietz on Maryanne Amacher, Marianne Schroeder, Stefan Tcherepnin, Kumpf discussing Amacher’s work, and science fiction writer Greg Bear’s short story based on Amacher’s piece Petra, plus an abundance of other important writing. Highly recommended. Speaking of Amacher, a recent concert produced by Blank Forms at St. Peter’s Church in Chelsea presented Schroeder and Tcherepnin playing Petra, for two pianos, last performed in public by Schroeder and Amacher in 1991. The sound and setting were magnificent and the music as alive as it was ethereal. It filled and transcended the (meta)physical boundaries of the church.
James asks Taylor (no seriously those are their names), “Are you a poet or a musician? Since you know Steve, you must be one or the other.” Taylor hesitates, thinks then answers, “A little bit of both I guess but mostly I’m a listener.”
This column is dedicated to Bern Nix.