“Right…Like bodega. that was a word I never knew until I moved to New York.”
- Woman to her friend walking down Spring Street
“Black has been described…as the absence of color [when in fact] the light is trapped in it and travels upward.”
- James Baldwin
So once again your wandering reporter who’s been entrenched in Paris and London gives you a report. Lots of gigs. Gigs. And more gigs. I got to catch folks like Steve Beresford, Alex Ward, Dominic Lash, John Butcher, John Edwards, Fred Frith, Syvain Kassap, Benjamin Duboc, the Dave Liebman Quartet, and more. I even got to play with some of them. In this column I will focus mostly on Frith.
The first night of Frith’s residency at Instance Chavires found him in the company of Chris Cutler and John Greaves. This set went from heavy metal elements to ambient. Frith played everything you’d expect him to play: comping, stroking with brushes, dropping the little chains and the spinning top. Greaves, who I haven’t seen before, played some sloppy bass at first, then got better and better as the trio grew more and more together. He also read several poems in a very monotonous voice, some experimental, some apocalyptic. As Cutler relaxed more, the music became ever that much more wondrous and impeccable, all over the place yet in perfect harmony.
Frith did several things I had never seen him do in New York including playing the piano and singing. For their encore after the second set they played a piece that started off as complete noise and ended up sounding like a Billy Holiday ballad with Greaves sitting at the piano, Cutler twisting papers, swishing brushes, and bowing the cymbals and snare, Frith playing dream-like, and in a quiet puff the set was over. The night went from warmly romantic to glacial, at times feeling like an eerie/airy soundtrack as explosive as it was ethereal and filled with disjointed harmonies, with Frith, as ever, coaxing a world of different sounds from his instrument. The trio became a three-headed behemoth, transforming the stage into their immediate individual universes while becoming one entity. A night to remember.
On the second evening Frith played with pianist Christine Wodroska, and guitarist Jen-Yves Eurard. Again Frith sauntered between minimalism and maximalism, with Eurard the perfect foil, echoing Frith or in complete oppositional meshing, preferring for a stretch to stroke the unamplified strings of his electric guiter. Wodroska, who came out of Cecil or more accurately Sylvie Courvosier, whisped the keys gently or pounded with her palms and fingers before reaching inside the piano to do some serious sonic damage. The overall effect of the three was an exercise in instinctual improvisation and layering/an externalized inner sanctum. Frith muttered (talk/singing) in a singular poesie sonore kind of way, then broke into a falsetto vocalese which transformed into a series of majestic clicks, creating a variety of cadences. The three at times spawned funny little overlapping, cockeyed, melodies, so deep had their bonding become. There were large sections of fuzz, squeals, and quiet melancholia. At one point Frith threw a towel over the guitar, banging it with brushes. He also used the same signature tops, chains and small metal balls. Here is a poem from that evening:
there is a hotel beneath the strings / where the guests reside / they gather about a feast for gourmands / travelling within the chug-a-lug of tunnel distance / the floors shudder / the engines increase in speed / the train compresses into a near acoustic vibration / the walls are creased as they absorb the sound / the guidelines issue WARNING / the trio breathes thru the extinguished mega-night’s forage / rubbing them SELF toward the gather / hissing as the tracks vanish into (G)ENORMITY / clackity … clickity … clackity .. clickiting clam…. mering … in order to efficiently gather / to meet within to gather.
At set’s end the crowd demanded an encore. The three re-emerged and Frith, a bit winded, sweetly declared in perfect French, “We thought it was a very nice ending so we prefer not to play anymore.”
Speaking of Kassap and Frith, there’s a new album on Rogueart, Echoes of Henry Cow, by the Michel Edelin Quintet, featuring Kassap, Sophia Domanchich, Stephane Kerecki, Simon Goubert, and special guest John Greaves (mentioned above) of Henry Cow fame, who now resides in Paris. The CD is made up for the most part of texts by Cutler and tunes by Cutler, Frith, Edelin, Lindsay Cooper, Tim Hodgkinson, Anthony Moore, and Peter Blegvad with Greaves reading all texts. This is a must for Henry Cow fans and curiosity seekers. An interesting new groove on an old yet ageless band, where jazz meets rock.
John Butcher played an incredible set with David Toop and Terry Day in Café Oto as part of a three day Toop residency co-curated by Thurston Moore, who played the evening before. Two days earlier I gigged there with composer Pete Wyer. We presented our collaboration of the “Insomnia Poems,” based on the drawings of Louise Bourgeois. We had last presented it for the BBC nearly 10 years ago and finally a CD and download have been made available, thus we were invited to do a release party. The other players included Robert Perry, Evelyne Beech, and Chris Cundy.
John Edwards seems to be one of the great bassists of all time. Here are my impressions after hearing him in London at a small new club, SET:
always red curtains / faux velvet that / few ever notice / the room none-the-wiser / the temperature hot/cold / the fingers > bow > a vibrating machine / the set a setting for peripheries / titanic juxtopbalas / signs up / forming a/part / shaking / we are shaking / London parceled cram(p)ing intense / beyond justification / to intimate to cause problems / est. 4/29/19 / elevating / alleviating hunger for music / possessing within the arguments > foundations / alive as it is living / attractive cause / engaging american eagle gear / as jacket proclaims / a dangerous machine / somewhere some god’s GOOD…
Yes I was in Paris when Notre Dame caught fire. I was at a Phill Niblock gig when the fire started. Someone showed me a photo of smoke coming from its roof. He told me Notre Dame was on fire and added that it wasn’t serious. I had to leave Phill’s gig to get to a gig of my own. There I got very drunk on gin and tonic after another fine night of readings and yelled at a guy who sold more books than I did and much cheaper too. During the opening a young woman in her twenties read a three page poem about Notre Dame burning. She had been there and recorded the event. It was true poetic journalism. I complimented her later after plying my brain with two more gins, realizing that this was really serious. The following poem is one of a few I wrote as a result of that incident.
there is a pale moon in the early evening sky / the book sellers are out on the left bank / people taking selfies with the spires / the stone as always stone / aside from the scaffolding in the back /
where the worse damage occurred none would be the wiser / if you hadn't seen it before / you wouldn't know the difference / the red tourist bus blocks my view for the moment / some discuss the situation in earnest / others stare blankly / i overhear the fragment / "...so more important taking a selfie / in front of every historical monument..." / the trees are still intact / behind the church / a barrage of cherry blossoms rise up / the bookstore with its stained glass / has expanded yet again / and is as crowded as ever / pink blossoms cling to the curb / mingling with cobble stones / and footsteps / a ways up / shriveled / she sits / thin hungry old woman / against a wall / on rue st. joseph ...she is ...all that is left of her / SELF
There isn't much more to say after you've said more than been's allowed to you.