Sunday, February 26, 2006

Hipsters, Flipsters and finger-popping daddies – knock me your lobes... Lord Buckley Redux...

I've been busy these last days so late on parade with this week's selection. I've been at a great gig (Vibracathedral Orchestra, Hush Arbors and Sunburned Hand of the Man in Nottingham) and played on two others – friday in Northampton at Liquidiser's regular sessions and last night the first one of this year's Club Sporadic – which went brilliantly – some fine music played by Stephen Lenehan and The Good Anna apart from ourselves. So: screw music this week! Need a break:

So: some hip humour from way back. I first encountered Lord Buckley's work in the sixties. He comes and goes out of fashion but is usually around somewhere in the background – wherever hipsters are having a laugh. Here's three of his most famous routines: The Raven, The Nazz and Marc Anthony's Funeral Oration. Head for Kick City... Enjoy...


The Nazz

Marc Anthony's Funeral Oration



The Raven


Saturday, February 18, 2006

Teddy Charles and George Russell...

Tangents are there to go off on, of course... The proposed Eric Dolphy post will be a little delayed because I wanted to put up some Teddy Charles. Who is still with us, like Chico Hamilton, featured in the previous post, an elder stateman still playing. Who has never really got his due – jazz critical fashions being what they are/were. Many interesting and valid currents from the artistic ferments of the fifties in America were subsequently overshadowed by the blood and fire of the sixties. The Eisenhower period is always depicted as grey, conformist, coming in off the witch-hunting/black-listing/commie-hunting McCarthy melodramas that put TV on the map. Yet there was the whole Beat ferment, the Black Mountain crew, a slew of painters and a variety of restless jazz musicians whose souls were not in hock to Charlie Parker producing some amazing music. If the dominant streams were the 'Cool school' and 'Hard Bop,' allied to those areas and overlapping were a bunch of mavericks intent on movement down their own paths. Jazz like all art forms runs on fashion and critical opinion. Dave Brubeck – forget it. Tristano – too white, or something, didn't like drummers anyway. And so it goes... Or people are just plain forgotten – like Charles, I suspect although he seems to have come back on the radar over the last few years – in his eighties, for God's sake. Maybe some obscurity is good for the health when you consider the litter of premature corpses round the jazz pantheon... So – Teddy Charles, started out as a drummer, like many a vibe player then took up the vibraharp and really flew. A good overview of his career is here...

The tracks I have chosen – Lydian M-1 by George Russell and Vibrations by Mal Waldron. Note that on the cd/album notes the trumpeter is called 'Pete Urban' – an alias for Art Farmer. The Tentet existed in various combination of arrangers,composers and personnel. This edition has the following musicians on board:

Teddy Charles (vibraphone); Gigi Gryce (alto saxophone); J.R. Monterose (tenor saxophone); George Barrow, Sol Schlinger (baritone saxophone); Peter Urban (trumpet); Mal Waldron (piano); Jimmy Raney (guitar); Teddy Kotick (bass); Joe Harris (drums).


Lydian M-1

Teddy Charles Tentet - Teddy Charles Tentet

Another unrecognised genius who had a massive theoretical impact on jazz but never really got his due until later in life (perhaps due to his decamping to Europe for a long period) is George Russell.Who composed one of the pieces above – 'Lydian-M1' and has Teddy Charles playing on this session which produced 'All about Rosie.' Noted especially for the Bill Evans solo that helped to establish him as a major new force in jazz, this is a long-form composition in three sections, lumped in with the 'Third Stream' at the time of inception. (And maybe 'Third Stream' – too European, man - could do with a re-examination?). There was a lot of crossover between the two musicians and those who played with them – Art Farmer for one, who plays on all these selections. Yet where the 'Third Stream' veered towards an often uneasy accomodation of European art music devices, notably atonality, Russell founded his own harmonic conception which expands greatly the harmonies of jazz from bebop onwards but is more polytonal than atonal – and he anticipated and influenced the move towards modal structures. Charles came at composition from a different angles but always seems to retain the essence of jazz in his performances, however 'far out' they go.

Charles and Russell stand as musicians who wanted to progress the music onwards without junking the tradition they came from, staying loosely within the 'bebop aesthetic,' as it were. Looking back one can see how much of a ferment was occurring throughout the so-called dull fifties before the jams really were kicked out by the 'new thing' in all its diverse manifestations. (Also, how much the sixties revolutionaries in turn were as rooted in the tradition – with hindsight).
Russell reached his eighties, as did Charles – as a now world-acclaimed composer and theoretician, still leading his ensembles. Charles is less well known – though still playing, apparently – those are the breaks. But the music remains, luckily available on CD and repaying much study – and enjoyment. Because whatever complexity of composition is on display here, the drums still have it underneath – the music swings in the old sense that was to be disrupted by the rhythmic onslaughts of polyrhythmic density to come. In some other more consciously 'Third Stream' settings, the beat edged into abstraction and a more European feel- these tracks swing, still sound fresh and full of surprise.

Art Farmer, Louis Mucci (t), Jimmy Knepper (tb), Jim Buffington, Robert Di Domenica (frh), John LaPorta (as), Hal McKusick (ts), Manuel Zegler (bsn), Margaret Ross (hrp), Teddy Charles (vib), Barry Galbraith (g), Bill Evans (p), Joe Benjamin (b), Teddy Sommer (d), George Russell (con, a),


All about Rosie


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Coltrane... Dolphy... obsessions? ... probably...

Kulu Se Mama was always an oddity... I bought it years ago but I can't say that it was ever one of my favourites and I rarely played it. But the times change – it's still an oddity, kind of Coltrane's equivalent of a late Albert Ayler track, maybe – world music/african roots exploration etc instead of flower power and r and b, but something that significantly demonstrates a potential broadening of direction – or a dead end... personally I like late Ayler... And on re-acquaintance, this does not sound that dated, strangely enough, because of those world music connotations?... Maybe... Recorded in 1965 with an expanded group on hand – Pharoah Sanders, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, Donald Rafael Garrett, Frank Butler, Juno Lewis, and Elvin Jones, there are a lot of streams flowing into the making of this chosen track – folk music mingling with the jazz - itself a river whose banks were bursting at the time - via overlaid imitations/emulations of African rhythms and song. Juno Lewis wrote the title poem for his mother, apparently, and performs it in an African-Creole dialect called 'Entobes.' Which , if you google it, only comes up in relation to this record. Obscure... The percussion is free-flowing but structured – unlike the wilder bangouts with Elvin Jones and Rashied Ali – with Frank Butler as second drummer. It opens over rattling small drums and Lewis chanting until the horns come in a slow line over the rippling cross rhythms, answered sporadically by Lewis. The heavily vocalised saxophone lines echo Lewis's voice – half-singing, half-chanting – getting wilder and squarkier as the music builds. The drums are recorded slightly back in the mix but the hand percussion burst through here and there – the pattering of what sounds like conga drums and bongos more cutting than the two trap drummers who are down in the engine room producing a dense blur of cymbals and snares and bass drums. Tyner surfaces through the dense murk of rhythm, repeated figures hammered out over a recurring thump on the tonal centre of b flat: the congas and shakers and what sounds like a cowbell welling up behind him. An echoing wooping sound from Lewis(?) before he returns to his vocal line. Bass led vamp to the ending, bringing the music to rest over echoing high drum sounds – bongos?

Now I've listened to it a few times, it grows on me, an attempt to expand beyond the usual howling wildness into an area where it would have been interesting to have heard more...


Kulu se mama


Continuing the African roots theme – a couple of years earlier, Coltrane recorded the mighty Africa/Brass sessions – some of my favourite music, not the least down to our man Eric Dolphy's arrangements for the orchestra. Blues Minor is taken at a brisk pace – Coltrane straight in with the theme as the band punctuates with deep sonorous chords then onwards into his solo as they drop out. The drums are with him all the way, the bass more felt than heard and Tyner chording in what sounds like the next room. A few choruses of solo sax then the orchestra step back in with background punches of colouration. Tyner up for a solo, an elegant, swinging series of choruses, lines of single notes mainly over discrete left hand chording, Garrison going from low to high on his bass walks. Coltrane returns, more forceful blowing, inside the form with the odd flurry to hint at escape outwards, recapping the theme here and there as the orchestra soar up in abrupt waves until they all go into the final theme statement.

Impassioned playing, of course. The subject matter demanded it... The resonance of this album comes from this excavation of origins – from the celebration of Africa as homeland to the sadness, despair and anger because of the forced separation of so many of its peoples during slavery. To the freedom road that started back on obscure plantations and developed through and after the Civil War, the sold-out dreams that became the nightmares that followed of segregation. Onwards to – wherever you want to put your marker. Not for me to say, I'm not black or American. A track from one of the great Coltrane albums – and by obvious extension one of the great artworks of the twentieth century.


Blues Minor


We seem to be working backwards. So, from Dolphy the arranger to Dolphy the soloist. A curiosity – his first recorded solo, or near as dammit, still under the heavy sway of Parker (which never entirely disappeared but became lighter as he rapidly fashioned his own inimitable style and built sturdily on that legacy). Taken from a lost album – Hamilton recorded the Ellington Suite twice- and the released version in 1959 was by a reunion of his old band - Buddy Collette, Jim Hall, Fred Katz and Carson Smith with Paul Horn added. This version, from 1958, was never released and remained lost for over thirty years until a test pressing surfaced in England. So here's 'Just a sitting and a rocking.' Bass and band in call and response theme statement. A mellow timbred group with the cello upfront alongside guitar and Dolphy on alto – unwinding upwards into his solo. Parkeresque as stated. Lightly swinging drums and cello doing some effective counterpoint in the background. Guitar solos cleanly as cello plays behind. Dolphy, of course, was to use the cello in his own groups a bit further down the line. This is light, airy jazz with unusual textures due to the instrumentation. Hamilton is still alive and playing in advanced years , an undersung hero in a genre of undersung heroes. A man whose recordings are well worth seeking out – a stone original...

The rest of the band on this date: Nate Gershman: cello, John Pisano: guitar and Hal Gaylor on bass . Some say that the released album was better, given Jim Hall and Fred Katz's jazz pedigree over the lesser known Pisano and more classically inclined Gershman. Track it down and compare... I'd usually go with Dolphy, no matter that Collette was a more accomplished player. Eric always had that spark


Just a sitting and a rocking


Saturday, February 11, 2006

Elton Dean: 1945- 2006...

I was going to post some more Eric Dolphy – but it can wait a week or so. I was down in the Artist's Quarter yesterday afternoon for a quiet drink and a read of the paper when I discovered – sadly – another obituary and another loss to the British jazz/improvised music scene. Elton Dean, gone from us at 60 on the 7th February. I also discovered something in the write-up by John Fordham here...
that I didn't know – Elton was originally from Nottingham. And following up a bit of research when I got home – Long John Baldry, see here...
with whose band Bluesology he played in the sixties, and who died last year, came originally from Haddon in Derbyshire. As a local East Midlander, back on the home ground now for a few years (but not for much longer if all goes well...) I felt maybe just a bit closer to these guys as an admittedly more obscure provincial boy who also went to the big city. Baldry I saw many times in London years back, especially when he was running some of the all -night folk sessions at Les Cousins – and maybe the old 51/Colyer Club although I 'm a bit amnesic about that one. Young blood running high on wild cocktails of adrenalin, drink and drugs... a long time ago... Elton Dean I don't think I ever saw live – but I heard him on radio and records consistently down the years. He was one of the few interesting constituents of 'Soft Machine' – a band I never liked, finding their take on jazz rock just too lumpy after hearing Miles and 'Bitches Brew.' Never was into that particular scene grouped around that band – and for all that he was and is no doubt a sterling and affable man, Robert Wyatt especially has always put me off – can't stand his whiny voice. Hey – shoot me. John Fordham's piece also imparts the amusing information that the appalling Elton John took his stage name from the monikers of Dean and Baldry. Dear God... But Elton Dean was a fascinating character, coming off that particularly English 60's treble – whammy of jazz and rhythm and blues and rock – which I wrote about in an earlier blog here... I like the freeforming moves across the territories of blues, jazz, rock and improv that he represents and was so adept at – open ears and mind, not closed up into any particular ghetto, the comfort of which in a hostile world where creativity does not always get its due is within easy reach and easier to cope with sometimes than challenging the barriers of one's peers. Eclecticism is not always a good move, musically, of course. A healthy dash of purism can be just as astringently uplifting... Circumstances and nerve and grace and luck determine which avenue to take at the correct tme... For the sake of argument, say, the area described between Miles Davis's later musics and Cecil Taylor's career. (The mirror image maybe is the distance between most fusion music and, for all the undoubted skills contained therein,the Wynton Marsalis neocon camp...)

I gather that Elton did not play so much over here these later days – which comes as no surprise: to make a living in the United Kingdom from challenging music is a difficult and sometimes impossible road to venture down. Plus ça change...

The two tracks I've selected come from a recent album: 'QED.' Quod erat demonstrandum, which if my rusty Latin tells me as : 'That which was to be demonstrated.' So I offer two of these proofs, more aesthetic, perhaps, than strictly mathematical, of the very considerable worth of the late Elton Dean:

'Sheepdogs.' A duet with Paul Rodgers on bass – performed within the jazz end of the spectrum, a free-ranging piece, fluent squalling vocalised saxophone, going in and out of more lyrical passages. Recorded live, at the Red Rose club.

'New Roads' is a trio recorded in the studio: an interesting line-up of Alex Mc Guire on the Hammond organ, Tony Bianco on drums and Elton on sax and Fender Rhodes. The two keyboards carry much jazz ideology with them – organ and sax playing grits and greens soul jazz (often for economic reasons) was a staple line-up in many clubs in the States during the fifties and sixties – and no doubt beyond. The whole jazz rock scenario of course sprang in great part from Miles Davis's experiments with adopting electronic instruments – much of the denseness on those 'Bitches Brew' and beyond tracks come from the mixture of electronic keyboards – Chic Corea and Keith Jarrett et al. There is an element of those epochal sounds here, mixed in with the orthodox jazz heritage – yet there is not much backbeat or conceding simplicity for it's own sake – this is also not some Jimmy Smith retread. Electric jazz, if you will, but not of the tedious kind that unfortunately followed Miles' experiments (you know who I mean). It rocks...

The diversity of playing scenarios that Dean adventurously participated in throughout his musical life are reflected in a small way by these tracks. A tantalising snippet of his most recent playing (at the end of an amazing live concert recording by Mary Schneider) can be caught during the next few days on Jazz on 3's latest show, available here...
featuring his latest (and sadly last) band Soft Bounds, with Hugh Hopper, Simon Goubert, Sophia Domancich. Lots of high energy playing – with a touch of the Coltrane quartet, perhaps (no bad thing) except maybe that bass and piano are more audible and integrated into the whole.

A great loss to the scene and condolences to his family and friends...

Good article about Elton Dean here...


New Roads


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Eric Dolphy and Andrew Hill...

My two musicians are (again) Eric Dolphy and Andrew Hill. One dead in his tracks too tragically young – the other, luckily still with us and belatedly, maybe, getting the acclaim he justly deserves. Two firebrands on saxophone (flute and bass clarinet) and piano respectively who nevertheless in the time of ferment they burned in when young kept a foot back behind the line of tradition. Dolphy could be seen as in the direct descent from Charlie Parker – Hill, well, a combo of Monk and Bud Powell at certain moments... maybe... But each was also his own man,with a fully developed style and broader musical aesthetic by the time these records were made. Dolphy has alongside him Booker Little, another tragically young fatality, and a powerful rhythm section – who all are magnificient, Haynes especially. Who is the overlap this time round (along with the relationship between Dolphy and Hill, of course) as he plays on both sessions, introducing the Dolphy tune with a few crisp bars of cymbal and sinuous snare. Little plays confidently and well, Dolphy bursting in as he always does, impatiently but in an almost boyish, charming manner. 'Far Cry' was dedicated to Charlie Parker, I believe, who at that time was only dead a few years – but his ghost still overshadowed mightily. Dolphy eschews his more dissonant angular intevallic leaps in his solo - almost reminding me of one of the other keepers of the Bird flame – with that cutting tone – Jackie McLean. But playing with that Bird-like fluency that demonstrated his immense technique. Byard - quite boppish. Then theme and out ending on upwards squawky twisting notes as Haynes ripples to a stop.

Eric Dolphy: Far Cry -1960

Eric Dolphy: alto sax;Booker Little: trumpet;Jaki Byard:piano; Ron Carter:bass; Roy Haynes:drums.


Far Cry


Andrew Hill: Black Fire - 1963

Andrew Hill:piano;Joe Henderson: tenor saxophone;Richard Davis:bass;Roy Haynes: drums.

Hill's theme 'Pumpkin' is a bumpy ride with a bar of 5/4 tacked on every so often to disrupt the rhythmic flow – which also acts as a unifying device and is negotiated in varying ways – a fluent Hill solo – well, he wrote it – a swift run through by Haynes and Davis – then Henderson, who sounds a fraction stifled here and there by that odd bar but steams through mightily overall. I had never really listened to the tenor player much until recently – given that he was fresh on the scene when this was recorded he plays with a gruff assurance throughout the album. Hill satisfies like Dolphy to the extent that he has a similar knotty harmonic vision and mastery of unexpected moves – and is also a superior compositional craftsman for his various small groups. They don't run off into the totally uncharted but play his compositions with cool mastery that has its flexibility tested to the limits at times. The 'Black Fire' here is a slow-burner rather than a flat-out conflagration – controlled heat.

Dolphy - an accomplished composer with a variety of takes on melding the old to the new – died young and Hill went into obscurity for a long time. The freshness of this music tempts speculations as to what might have been... maybe the vindication is that jazz as it stands today – a sprawling ill-defined and almost undefinable area – contains in its mainstream much of the advances and sounds these guys made.




Thursday, February 02, 2006

Pete Morton at the Pack Horse, Loughborough, 20 Jan 2006

There had been a buzz all week round the watering holes – Pete Morton – Friday – be there... come early... Pete is back in town...

Pete Morton
is a constant...even though I haven't heard him live so much recently and was removed by geography and the madness of relationships from the game for a long time before that. But back in the East Midlands – who ya' gonna call? This is the guy who reduces me to tears, makes me laugh out loud and causes me to click my heels with the sheer éclat of his muse: they say he's a best kept secret and maybe that is (unfortunately) true... but not on his home ground...

And: why write about those who do not move the blood... Pete always has.

I got to the Pack before 8 pm and the place was quiet – there was that odd feeling that – maybe it was going to be one of those dire nights when no-one turns up – then the room started to fill rapidly. No problem. Everyone expectant – and a cross section of ages for once, not just the usual ageing folk club diehards. An introductory song from Frank Marmion, the club curator and main resident musician – in his own inimitably waggish style: 'The hole in the elephant's bottom.' Inspired: old school music hall, really, as being totally different to the main emotional tenor of the night, raising much laughter and easing the audience in smoothly. Then: coming up fast – Pete Morton.

Who has been playing this old club on and off for many years, since his early breakout onto the scene with a refreshingly dynamic take that rode on the punk energy of the times (and the energy of his earlier musical attempts at rock and roll anarchy and riot, amusingly mentioned later in the evening). He looked a little tired, just back from the States a week before and constant gigging since apparently. But with an audience like this, the emotional energy is palpable – just reach out and touch and be enervated. So he did.

Starting off with a song from his new album, 'Great Gold Sun.' A ¾ evocation of another time which could have lapsed into the sentimentality that is rampant on the folk scene – all those bygone songs of yearning yesteryears. Pete avoids this – on one level, by his delivery, a very good singer who can soar upwards and come through with an emotional honesty that hits hard. Also by the cunning and craft of the song: using the distancing device of a flickering, crackly old silent piece of film that shows a town scene from 1905, he wonders where the people went to, notices social details such as 'everyone's wearing a hat.' The film acts to stand in between us and them, a barrier which recognises the distance that the sentimental ones ignore and that can only give snatched glimpses of the past. Almost a straight observation of the landscape and people, there is a sadness behind in the awareness that this is time gone – only scratchily available now through a battered old scrap of film. Yet the casual observations of individual quirks somehow build a subtle if flimsy bridge across time- we are connected to our forefathers and mothers across death, if only for a song's duration.

Following this: an interesting - and brave – take on the Palestine/Israeli conflict. Admonishing the opposing participants as if they were squabbling children – brothers especially who fight more savagely in sibling rivalry than strangers in random encounters. This is not the usual weary knee-jerk reaction but a song that tries to be even-minded – I guess it would probably offend both sides which makes it relevant. 'Overtired.' But who is speaking? This could be seen as Western patronising on one level – except that the narration can come from – everyone. Anyone. And the distance again that this creates seems to put the conflict into a wider historical timeframe, outside the daily catalogue of horrors and name-calling - with the promise that resolution sooner or later is inevitable. Someday... At the end of the song there were sirens outside moving fast across town in the East Midlands night. An almost chilling piece of synchronicity.

Moving on. 'The Busker's Song. An evocation of teenage rebellion – 'we played Ramones songs faster than the Ramones' - and the eventual inevitable separation from other like-minded anarcho-rebels as the mirror person in the song is met years later and turns out to have become a straight member of society – as opposed to the singer/musician who took the rhetoric (too?) seriously and followed his dream: a rake and a rambling boy in the ongoing vie bohème. It's a song about being a musician and growing older and looking back – noting and measuring the degrees of separation from those who went into jobs and raised families etc. Especially resonant to musicians who have followed the same roads... But it is not cheesy – even-handed while celebrating the loneliness, it does not snipe at the one who stayed home. Which is an ongoing quality of Pete's music – a generosity that can applaud difference. A generosity of words as well – as they tumble out and across the bar-lines in a splendid torrent.

'The Luckiest Man' is a celebration of family – Mum and Dad. Social history and celebration of place – Leicester – which comes over all the more piquantly because Pete does not adopt a foreign accent for his songs or flatten his inherited inflections out of recognition but sings well within the gradations of the local, so that a fragment of dialect does not jar. This gives his music an ease to itself, a space to breathe easily.

A song for himself... a personal request: 'Further.' A song that moves from the local to the universal and back which is as good a phrase as any to describe Pete's main songwriting tactic. In this case, a ramble through Lincolnshire, during which he reflects that his language is related to Friesian – the Holland across the sea from the fen country. And how much he loves this land. With the line that sums up a main strand of his thought and music: 'The world is crazy but your love can change it./ And it's going to get better 'cause we carry it on.' Ending on the universal inside the local – sitting in a cafe in Lincoln but looking out at the world: 'I raised my glass for all mankind.'

He puts this technique to good use again in the song: 'Post Office Queue.' Celebrating the myriad lives that can be found in something as mundane as – a queue at the Post Office. An up song, quirkily amusing. And an interesting device – the queue - to engage lightly with the modern world and contrast the human speech of people thrown into accidental interaction with the mechanical voice that directs people to the different counters as they become available. 'Cashier number four, please'...

Pete has never stayed still on his musical quests – delivering his next song in passable Dutch from the Hollander songwriter Stef Bos. (Here - or here...). This looks a promising direction – for his Dutch gigs! Not sure how much you can get away with in monolingual England. Only joking - the choruses are not that difficult to get around.

Followed by the end set number: 'Harvest.' A loaded word. Initially, images of rural England in a folk song context, certainly. But something more going on here – 'Love' is bringing the harvest home and operating on metaphorical level. The song depends to a certain extent on lists of opposites throughout: 'The passions come the passions go,' 'The pleasures and the troubles,' 'Joy and sorrow sun and rain,' 'The body grows the body wanes' Etc. These dialectic encounters set up the very rhythm of life, it seems – and are resolved when the higher force intervenes: 'Love.' All you need? A cheap shot – there is a denseness to this song which resists easy analysis.

As intimated in his introductory song to the evening, a new career awaits Frank Marmion if there is a musical hall revival: he opens the second half with 'After the Ball.' A song that reveals some strange sadness underneath the familiarity of the chorus. In a voice, as someone famously said: 'throbbing with emotion and alcohol,' two traditions meet – or recombine as the music hall was where much 'folk music' that survived the rise of urban England flowed into the new, more consciously commercial mainstream, I guess, after the industrial revolution. Chris Coleman essayed a nifty piece of ragtime guitar playing as contrast. John Bentham, local stalwart of the traditional scene sang unaccompanied and as ever - well. Sheila Mosley next – another local singer with an unusual high and sweet voice. (Her daugher runs this site about Pete Morton, by the way... worth a look... ) These floor singers are varied and skilful – a tribute to the Pack Horse and also the seemingly higher standard of musicianship around these days. Not one of those dreadful tributes to laziness – a songsheet – in site. They frame Pete's performance well.

Second half: going into the John Clare song I mentioned above – 'The Shepherd's Calendar.' I love this song, so evocative of the poet's tortured, tragic yet defiantly optimistic life – 'The bells of life are ringing...And anyway the birds are sweetly singing.' Contrasting the world of rural Northamptonshire/Nature with the bustle and harshness of London – the old and the new England - and the brief fame he encountered there before his eventual return and later descent into madness. A snapshot of a moment when he was caught between two worlds on the way to meet his publisher: ' I step from my world toward his/I'm like a beggar on a bridge/Between two understandings.' The guitar figure is that familiar descending pattern in G he uses (maybe too often!) that evokes the gait of someone strolling out to London and their problematic destiny. 'London is calling with its scheme... I do not know where the wolves lie'... All provincials who travelled that road know that big city wolf howl – and the harbinger, poor old mad John Clare from Northampton – sucked blindly into the Metropolitan dazzle so long ago... plus ça change etc...

Moving to an American poet: 'I'm in love with Emily Dickinson.' Staying inside with a ghost - 'Some say she died years ago' - evoked by the immortality of her achievement and her presence: 'I heard her down the hall.' A celebration of what reading poetry is probably all about – entering a zone beyond the temporal – as the narrator echoes the strange interiorised life of Dickinson at her family home in Amherst: 'That's why I stay indoors/and let the world go proudly by.' Describing the relationship one has with a loved writer – intense and almost erotic and transcending time. The weird cyberspace of literature...

From the literary to – 'The Battle of Trafalgar.' The pub in Leicester where he wrote it during a drinking session, not the famous conflict of 1805. A raucous paean to the eccentricities and foibles of the common run – 'they'll never clone people like this in a million years.' The surreal in the ordinary. Anyone who has ever participated in one of those lock-ins that defiantly go outside of time – in both senses – temporal and legal (before the new laws anyway) -creating a temporary zone of freedom where strangers meet and enjoy the ongoing barminess- will know what he is describing. If you've never been there – you won't truly appreciate this song...

'Corruption country.' Displays the manner in which Pete can be strongly moral in his social criticism – but still up-beat enough to point beyond the darkness. Some powerful imagery here –

'Corruption Country it knows no bounds
It's a killer it's a thief it's a bloodthirsty pack of hounds.'

Describing the all-inclusive manner of contemporary society – 'it knows no bounds.' The older corruptions were more ring-fenced in a way, more contained, compared to the pervasive intrusions of today that spill over everywhere – on a scale never seen before due to the power of technology but backed up when necessary by the traditional thuggeries – 'killer,' 'thief,' 'pack of hounds.' Images that link criminal violence with the vengeance of the law on a common participatory ground of evil. This viral character of contemporary corruption and darkness is further taken on: 'runs amok through the fields of the good and it craves more wealth.' A wild apocalyptic floodtide, out of control... yet counterbalanced by the continual growth of democracy which 'is still a child/but it's growing every day.' To the extent that 'One day soon... Corruption Country will be gone.' An optimistic take, maybe. But heartwarmingly so: we can sometimes stare too long into the headlights of brutal events as they come at us and be hypnotised into complacency and cowardice. An interesting song that is not geographically specific – it could apply to almost any country on some level. With a strong hint- maybe - of the growing pains of young democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan? The ambiguity and universality again makes the song resonate more strongly...

'The Shores of Italy' is an absolute killer and heartbreaker. About an incident off the coast of Italy concerning a boat full of African immigrants sinking. No moralising, or explicit side taking. No slogan banging. Just a compassionate and tragic story – about the dazzling mirage of wealthy Europe and freedom from want for the dispossed of Africa (and by extension, beyond...). About the disorientation of transit between home and and a fearful, uncertain future: 'When I lose my compass and I'm thinking of Africa.' A stunning rendition and raising of the grim images lurking beyond the surety and safety all too easily taken for granted: 'So many dreams lost on an unknown sea.' A song that haunts you for days afterwards...

Another Dutch song. Dutch always sounds slightly familiar yet off-kilter – a weird funhouse mirror image of English. I am not unfamilar with Dutch music so I enjoy these Lowlands journeys – and the audience seem happy enough as they struggle to sing along... a contrast to Holland where most people could probably make every chorus tonight in English without too much linguistic strain...

A traditional song at last: 'Farmer's Boy.' A song Pete has made his own, which suits that open-throated soaring voice. And an interesting story buried inside the happy ending and narrative trajectory lit by bucolic sunlight – the lad who comes to the farm looking for work has a lot of hungry mouths to feed which hints at the harsher life of the rural poor back when. One of those rolling choruses suited to a venue like this. I looked at the faces of the audience as they joined in: ecstasy.

Going out on...

'Six Billion Eccentrics.' A light-hearted crowd-leaver. But again – that celebration of the extraordinary in the supposed mundane – we are all wonderfully different and this should be celebrated, the title referring, of course, to the massed population of the world.

The encore. Riding out on 'Another Train,' what else? About the reality of redemptionary second chances in life stated bluntly: 'There always is.'. I've heard others sing it and it travels well but... always better from the fountainhead and weirdly, still fresh... A strong song that means a lot to many people...

Summation: Pete said earlier down in the bar that most reviews read like train time-tables - lists of the songs and little else. I've tried to get away from that by using my transcribed reactions to the music as I heard it as much as possible – a barrelfull of emotion, for sure, but - not exactly recollected in tranquility - as I did not have my glasses with me that night so the notes were even more scrawled and indecipherable than usual – more: feverishly embellished. A distancing technique of my own but hopefully retaining some immediacy... The next day I was sat in a Loughborough bar with Frank Marmion and he said something interesting: that he was still full emotionally from the night before. I knew what he meant – there is a lot to unravel and take in when Pete Morton performs. But the first and lasting impression is the emotional force he sends out to his audience. By being true to himself – still the Leicestershire pronunciations scattered throughout the songs, the voice clear and true, lightly rooted in its place but flexible enough to encompass the greater world without compromising its origins - he creates a unique body of work. English yet universal, looking for the common humanity of all far and wide while simultaneously rejoicing in the individuality of each person. Beyond system or ideology, a spiritual take on life that needs no priests or churches, rooted perhaps in the rebellious culture of the English antinomian heritage from the Ranters and beyond through the anonymous rebel past and back via a couple of individuals he has written songs about - George Fox, John Clare - by way of the Spinster of Amherst. Who, come to think of it, took the Puritan heritage of the Bay Colonies, refracted it through the ballad and hymn forms of her culture and produced amazing anticipations of the modern and post-modern muse with her fragmented lines, dashes, taut compressions and wild wired conversations and arguments with God. Dickinson was a questor through internal, enigmatic spaces...

'EXULTATION is the going
Of an inland soul to sea,
Past the houses, past the headlands,
Into deep eternity! '

The female internalised counter-part(and subtle counterpuncher) to Walt Whitman's outdoor, brawling, sprawling poems that followed and delineated the outer space of the growing country. Maybe Pete should write a song about him... as a man who celebrated democracy and the individual as paradigm for all, with a matchless joyful optimism for the possiblities of life, he seems a fitting anticipatory member of this radical heritage:

'I CELEBRATE myself;
And what I assume you shall assume;
For every atom belonging to me, as good belongs to you.'

Pete Morton. One day in Loughborough - we raised our glasses to him...

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Hard Bop - forwards and backwards...

It looks as if I have gone seriously old school these last couple of weeks with all the folk/acoustic gigs and reviews (Pete Morton at the Pack almost finished)... apart from that wild Coltrane track a few days ago. But – it's what comes up and out.. So- some hard bop of the classic variety first up – Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers from the remastered album 'Moanin.' But not the title track - a couple of different tunes, I think, to be perverse. 'Along Came Betty' is a Benny Golson compostion. 'Come Rain Or Come Shine' an old standard – here done in a loping mid-tempo smartly clipped arrangement. One of the Blakey band's great strengths apart from soloists in depth and the mighty power of the leader's drums was the continual excellence of his arrangers, as well as all the classic original compositions for the band. This particular incarnation had Timmons and Golson – two very original writers of themes that have stuck around. Solos are great – Timmons romping, rolling, almost barrelhouse at times, Lee Morgan signifying why his death was such a loss – but listen especially to Golson on 'Come Rain...' - almost edging into Coltrane territory? Well, they were from the same town...

And then there was original bop – which doesn't come harder and faster than this aptly titled track: 'Dizzy Atmosphere.' Classic live recordings from 1947 - brief theme statement – then into a whirling Parker solo punctuated by crisp cymbals and those sporadic bop bombs from the drummer. Then Gillespie – an equally barnstorming, lipburning solo. Brief re-statement and out to wild applause. The bass and piano (Al McKibbon and John Lewis) are all but inaudible but the horns and drums of Joe Harris are enough to display how fast bop became a mature style – a mere couple of years. Those theme statements - a precursor echo of what Ornette Coleman would sound like with Don Cherry ten years or so later. Hindsight being a mult-faceted analytical tool...

Along Came Betty_mp3

Come Rain And Come Shine_mp3



Dizzy Atmosphere_mp3