Sunday, July 30, 2006

Art Blakey and more synchronicity... with Thelonious Monk, Clifford Brown et al...

Art Blakey... I was sat in a rather wonderful new bar bistro place in God's Little Acre called Goodliffes a couple of days ago with my collaborator Murray discussing future plans (given my ongoing health problems, somewhat narrowed down and more targeted...) when he mentioned how much he liked Art Blakey. At first I misheard and thought he was referring to a character in the old and late-lamented (by the perverse) British sitcom , 'On the Buses' - (Blakey: 'I 'ate you, Butler')... a momentary slip. A little while later 'Moanin' by one of the classic (Art) Blakey lineups came on the sound system (I said this place is wonderful...) – so you can't fight these things...

I saw (Art) Blakey at a festival just down the road about twenty years ago and he was awesome – an old guy with a shock of white hair who tottered on stage – and when he hit his drums it was like tectonic plates moving in the earth – incredible power. Blakey was generally regarded as the best drummer to play behind Thelonious Monk – so here are two selections from their shared album, recorded in 1958. This is the Jazz Messengers with Monk taking the piano chair – front line speed tenor man Johnny Griffin had also played with Monk in his quartet. Blakey ushers in 'Evidence' – that tricky, rather ominous Monk theme. Bill Hardman solos first, over Monk's elliptical comping that disappears abruptly then suddenly plonks a triplet or a chordal marker/phrase down. Monk takes a minimal solo – more an exercise in silence in between a few scattered phrases. Griffin fleet through the changes as ever, Monk more in evidence (ho ho) behind him than he was with Hardman. Blakey enters quietly, slowly building – an exercise in dynamics – he wasn't always battering the life out of his drums. Creating a solo over the constancy of his ticking hi hat that erupts into brilliance. Actually the best solo on the track

Monk leads off 'Rhythm a ning' with a truncated phrase from the theme. He takes his solo, teasingly waiting a few bars before coming in. Variations on the theme, spun out and cranked up with percussive stabs and then he suddenly drops out as the bass carries it along before a drum roll that marks the end of the chorus – to signal Bill Hardman?. Monk playing deep bass rumbles and higher descending chords - before he again just drops out. Griffin skirling in. Monk banging in behind him sporadically, prodding, leaving the timbral flavour of his piano across the track. Rumbling toms usher in Blakey. Inspired playing again, the equal of everyone else and more... Ensemble theme statement, Monk taking the rolling figure in the middle eight.

One could argue that the beboppy solos from Hardman and Griffin are not quite aligned with Monk's muse and his silences, rhythmic displacements and unusual comping almost stand as sardonic rebukes as well as guidelines– but the interactions between Blakey and the pianist across this session – dominated by Monk and his compositions - make up for any stylistic uncertainties that occur. Classic stuff...

Blakey's longtime band The Jazz Messengers was a great school through which many young musicians passed. Here is the late Clifford Brown featured on trumpet from a live session recorded at Birdland in 1954 by the Blakey quintet - with Horace Silver the co-founder of the future Messengers on piano. A fast version of 'The way you look tonight' – appearing somewhat flustered and out of breath? - if the brisk tempo is a guide... Brownie is imperiously good as ever – but it does not hurt to be reminded of the fallen occasionally. A young man who always seemed to be bursting with music – as if he had to get so much out before his tragic death. Donaldson is in his Charlie Parker bag – but fluent and swinging. Silver is the real surprise here – a scampering, madcap solo, replete with the bebopper bag of quotes – among others 'Three Blind Mice' in there somewhere, which is almost a harbinger for the Blakey/Jazz Messengers version some years later. Russell is good and solid in support. Blakey takes a typically torrential solo before they come back for the theme. An interesting snapshot of jazz a year before Charlie Parker died... where the template of hard bop is being constructed - to evolve into the future Jazz Messengers sound (and fury...).

Every time I hear the hammered pedal point piano introduction to 'Free for all' I get that shiver of anticipation: this may have been the best Messengers grouping of all – great soloists backed up by provocative material especially from Shorter and arrangements that take the band beyond the blowing session into a more co-ordinated unit. A twisting, turning Shorter solo, bolstered by the other horns riffing in and out sporadically for punctuation – with Blakey's thundering drums this helps to boot the tenor further along down the path of inspiration. Curtis Fuller next up: gruffly fluent. Followed by Hubbard, who never played better than with this band (not that he ever played badly). Soaring, majestic... The leader fires off a brutal, driving solo, hammering the hell out of his kit...There is some kind of clenched energy to this album – some kind of riposte to - what? The rise of the free jazz avant-garde? Incorporating some of those newly discovered technical freedoms inside the expansive more social rhythms that Blakey could lay down – sadly, just as this particular incarnation of the Messengers was coming to an end – to prove that jazz could change from within, expand and grow without losing its mainstream attraction? A wider cultural message – in the context of Sixties America in general – and Black musicians and their people in particular? Fiery stuff...

And for added value, here's Blakey and the Messengers, featuring Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter, playing his call to arms 'Blues March'...

Thelonious Monk and Art Blakey with the Jazz Messengers
(Thelonious Monk: piano; Johnny Griffin: tenor saxophone; Bill Hardman: trumpet; Spanky DeBrest: bass; Art Blakey: drums).

Rhythm – a – ning


Art Blakey Quintet
(Art Blakey: drums; Clifford Brown: trumpet; Lou Donaldson: alto saxophone; Horace Silver: piano; Curley Russell: bass).

The way you look tonight


Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers
(Art Blakey: drums; Freddie Hubbard: trumpet; Wayne Shorter: tenor saxophone; Curtis Fuller: trombone; Cedar Walton: piano; Reggie Workman: bass ).

Free for all


Thursday, July 27, 2006

Ornette by three...

You can't get away from Ornette... I was early morning net surfing and over on the very wonderful jazz blog Destination Out (now added to my links on the sidebar) found some recordings of a recent concert in New York by him and his now three bass band. They won't be there long so go get them here... – sound quality is good and the music is stunning. Ornette seems to be on an artistic roll at the moment... So, given all the harmolodics of late – here's three by Mr Coleman. Why fight fate...

First: a live session recorded in Europe, 1965: 'At the Golden Circle, Vol 1' from which I have selected 'Faces and Places' (alternate take). What always comes across in his work is a sense of freedom and space – even on the crowded and sprawling electric Prime Time tracks. Here – an acoustic trio playing music that flows and rolls effortlessly – and breathes. At this distance in time it is easily forgotten how hard won these freedoms were (go back and read some of the asinine contemporary criticism)– and one wonders if Ornette has ever really been given his rightful due (rather than just some awkward tokenism). Still – we should be glad that he is still playing/composing - and putting together killer bands. 'Faces and Spaces' is a typical quirkily brilliant theme and Ornette solos over solid Izenson bass and the spurring drums of Moffet. One of my favourite groups, they seem so finely tuned to each other's moves. Moffet especially is an underrated drummer, I think, spinning out long polyrhythms, sudden rolls and ticking rimshots, bass drum triplets, cymbals in constant agitation, fast off-beat high hat stutters. Izenson solos as Moffet falls back, just ticking cymbals as accompaniment, the bass a little muffled but delivering fast articulate lines. Ornette returns for another solo – if one can think of this in terms of solo plus backing because everything is so tightly interlocked and interdependent – they call it harmolodics, captain... Moffett's drums surge in volume towards the end – which when it comes is one of those drop on a dime (or old sixpence) sudden stops.

'From 1950 to 1975 harmolodics has always existed in my writing and playing. Yet I did not have a Harmolodic Band to compose and perform with as a working band. I often speak about being a composer that performs without prejudice of environment.

Enter - Prime Time in forming a Harmolodic Band, where the needs of the composer and the players found challenging questions. Prime Time is not a jazz, classical, rock or blues ensemble. It is pure Harmolodic where all forms that can, or could exist yesterday, today, or tomorrow can exist in the now or the moment without a second.'

(-Ornette Coleman, from the liner notes to Body Meta).

'Body Meta' was recorded in 1975 . 'Voice Poetry' has a cheeky Bo Diddley-ish rhythmic lick to it – the old 'shave and a haircut two bits' – ushered in by the drums before the rhythm guitar picks it up. Another guitar enters, single line melody statement across the bouncing bass and the rhythm guitar/drums holding the repeated lick, evolving into modulating chordal strums. Ornette finally enters – his alto in perfect sonic balance with the other lines. Long held notes until the solo develops further, his innate rhythmic displacements bouncing off his companions. Melody as rhythm, rhythm as melody... high smearing plaintive notes - always an element of some sweet sadness in his playing – to my ears. The guitar not holding the rhythm loop becomes more agitated. A sudden drop off ending...

Coleman came together with Pat Metheny in 1986 – on the face of it, an odd pairing, yet Metheny (who subsequently went on to record with the late Derek Bailey) had expressed much admiration for the elder player and his guitar on 'Song X' steps beyond itself in this company. Metheny holds his own and more – and Ornette seemed particularly inspired. 'Endangered Species' opens on high squealing notes that suddenly swirl and swarm – like a flock of demented birds whose collective internal radars have been sabotaged. (An 'endangered species?' Like forward-thinking 'jazz' musicians?). One of Ornette's strange tunes that is nevertheless catchy mainly because of the repeated, bending phrase that follows the initial fast frenzy. Beyond the theme, this is largely collective improvisation driven by the maelstrom of the two drummers. Ornette seems unflappable against the sonic extravaganza launched by the guitar player, angry swirls of thick guitar swooping round his alto and threatening to drown him in places – yet he stands his ground. Metheney's playing here is more about timbre and texture, the inimitable Charlie Haden all but inaudible in places but gamely hanging. They drop out to leave the drums to duet, De Johnette and Denardo, two veterans of the long hard rides into fusion and electricity that Miles and Ornette independently launched ( as incessantly mentioned in recent posts!). Return to theme, then odd electronics as the drums take it out onto a final cymbal crash.

Ornette Coleman Trio
(Ornette Coleman(as,tp,vln), David Izenzon(b), Charles Moffett(d) )
Faces and Places


Ornette Coleman
(Ornette Coleman(as), Bern Nix(g), Charles Ellerbee(g),
Jamaaladeen Tacuma(b),Shannon Jackson(d) )
Voice Poetry


Ornette Coleman/Pat Metheny
Ornette Coleman(as,vln)Pat Metheny(g,g-syn), Charlie Haden(b), Jack DeJohnette(d), Denardo Coleman(d)

Endangered Species


And here is an interesting, somewhat lo-fi video of Metheny in Japan, 1999...

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Feeding back... Byard Lancaster...and more... James Chance... Joe Bowie/Defunkt...

The comments on my blog are always welcome especially as they enable me to feed back music if I can lay my hands on it.. Sparked by a comment from godoggo, I searched for Byard Lancaster – found a couple of tracks from some live sessions in 1976 and also on a Sunny Murray album from 1966 – and also found some obscure musicians worthy of attention. The trumpeter Jacques Coursil, for one. (Scroll down). The alto player Jack Graham appears to be even more obscure... if anyone any information about him, I would be interested in seeing it.

In chronological order...

This eponymous Sunny Murray album is a wonderful document of the bustling avant-garde in 1966 when all options must have seemed open and Murray was fine-tuning his revolutionary skills on drums. 'Hilariously' opens with a unison stretched out theme that Silva's arco bass slides in and out of, followed by alto solo, underpinned by the rolling surging drums of Murray, timbrally moving from high to low via his insistent cymbal work and the bass and tom tom with his marching band rat tat snare in the middle. The first alto solo starts high and proceeds with alternate querulous low register squark to high register scribble. A touch of Ayler... Trumpet enters worrying at a phrase, circling and pouncing back. Cat plays with mouse... finally tailing away as the second alto enters, recorded back in the mix and blurred at times by Murray's drums – which suddenly drop back before the return of the theme unison. Silva is not always easy to pick out of the mix – probably because of the deeper timbres of the rolling, almost oceanic drums. An interesting snapshot of free jazz a year before Coltrane died, four before Ayler's demise.

By the seventies, the avant-garde (and much of the mainstream in jazz)was in a period of severe retrenchment. Yet, behind the scenes, musicians were still playing, often using the loft spaces of New York as rehearsal area and club. One of the most famous was Studio Rivbea – owned by Sam Rivers and his wife. The next two tracks are from sessions recorded there in May 1976 – on the cusp of punk interestingly - and released on the 3 cd set Wildflowers (reviewed here... scroll down). These recordings provide a fascinating glimpse into a largely undocumented era. On the first selection, in a band led again by Sunny Murray, Byard Lancaster on alto plays a gorgeous, straight reading of 'Over the Rainbow' in tandem with David Murray on tenor. The second is by a band collectively called Flight to Sanity - Lancaster here is playing tenor sax. A long, loping modal track, flavoured by bass ostinatos, pattering congas and thrusting piano from Sonelius Smith. Lancaster solos after Art Bennett on soprano sax and the pianist, thoughtful, restrained, a small echo of Coltrane in his slightly keening timbre. Ironically, both these tracks are almost conservative by comparison to the Murray album from a decade earlier...

More feedback...

Anthony is a big James Chance fan – here he is playing the wild Michael Jackson cover: 'Don't stop till you get enough.' Frenetic punk nihilism, fed by the energies of the rock scene sourced in the heady days of CBGB's etc colliding with Siegried/Chance/Black's freejazz aspirations.

I thought it might be interesting to compare Chance with Joe Bowie's Defunkt, coming from a different angle – very much more aligned with Ornette's harmolodics yet with his own distinct take on how to bang 'social' rhythms next to free form scrawling.

And a last thought – here's a polemic that states punk was birthed from radical jazz – which in a way brings all of this round in a circle...

Sunny Murray
(Jacques Coursil-trumpet; Jack Graham-alto saxophone; Byard Lancaster-alto saxophone; Sunny Murray- drums; Alan Silva-bass)



Sunny Murray and the Untouchables
(Murray- drums; Byard Lancaster- alto saxophone; David Murray- tenor saxophone; Khan Jamal- vibes; Fred Hopkins- bass )

Over the Rainbow

Flight to Sanity
(Harold Smith- drums; Byard Lancaster- tenor saxophone; Art Bennett- soprano saxophone; Olu Dara- trumpet; Sonelius Smith- piano; Benny Wilson- bass; Don Moye- conga )

The need to Smile

Taken from 'Wildflowers'


The Razor's Edge


James Chance and the Contortions

Don't stop till you get enough


And some video footage of James Chance
Defunkt to finish with

Friday, July 21, 2006

More Blood...Larry Young vibrates cosmically... Sonny Sharrock wails alongside his wife... Miles opens the door with his 'Spanish Key'...

Early in his New York days James Blood Ulmer played on a session with Larry Young– 'Lawrence of Newark.' The track I present here is another glorious mess from the days when jazz was still coming to grips with amplification and rock influences. Parts of this track remind me strongly of 'Bitches Brew' (on which Young's organ contributed to the overall sound). A horde of drummers are present – bongoes, congas, trap drums, kitchen sinks... Plus a couple of electric pianos thrown into the stew – or more appositely the cous-cous (Young had adopted the Islamic name Khalid Yaseen). Pharoah Sanders is supposed to be in there somewhere as well... You can't hear much of Ulmer – he is strictly a sideman on this date. But the track gives a good snapshot of the post 'Bitches Brew' early seventies after the major upheavals of the sixties/avant garde etc. It ends rather abruptly in my (ahem) copy – apologies...

Young like many another jazz musican, died too early... same old same old....

Let us bring in that other doyen of American free jazz guitar from the same era – Sonny Sharrock. Oddly enough (or not...), this continues the Miles/Ornette dichotomy I mentioned in a previous post. Sharrock played with Miles and his electric guitar, alongside the more heavily featured John McLaughlin, stands in an interesting relationship to Miles developments of his electric muse – in the same way, maybe, that Ulmer stands with Ornette. Sometimes teachers can learn a lot from their pupils... Of course, original fountainheads for both Sharrock and Ulmer were probably that quintessential Sixties mixture of Jimi Hendrix (who influenced Miles as well) and John Coltrane. Put these two together and you can see where so much of this music came from and went to...

Sharrock recorded the album 'Black Woman' with his wife Linda and a selection of the New York avant -garde scene around in 1969. The track given here is 'Peanut' and Milford Graves on drums is especially interesting, alternately floating and rolling the rhythms– a man known more by reputation than extant recordings. Sharrock languidly states the theme then speeds up into fast strummed chords and jagged lines (reminding me, oddly, of Richie Havens over-belting the hell out of an open-tuned guitar). In places it sounds as if he is using some kind of bottle neck way up the neck. Skittering and scrabbling in gay abandon, not especially technically brilliant but possessed of a great fire. As Albert Ayler said: 'It's not about the notes anymore, it's about emotions.' Linda Sharrock's voice (jazz singer: she ain't)– well, I can usually take it or leave it but texturally here it blends to give an unearthly quality that suits the mood of the track – a wordless wailing back in the mix. The pianist Burrell comes in for some glissando-ish ripples and Norris Jones is solid all the way. One of Graves' cymbals sounds like a distant higher-pitched relation of the J. Arthur Rank gong (for older British moviegoers). Sharrock returns for more wild flailing plectrum attack as Linda testifies in the distance. (Some would say that she should have stayed there but it's a nice day and I'm feeling charitable...). An abrupt end...

As mentioned in the last post, James Blood Ulmer came out of r and b/funk and travelled through the jazz world as he expanded his music until his fateful meeting with Ornette Coleman. In latter years he has returned to his roots with, as they say, a vengeance. On the album 'No escape from the Blues,' he recorded the old Richard M Jones number 'Trouble in Mind.' Ulmer has developed into a wonderful blues singer, his low down bass baritone as deep as the Mississippi river. Vernon Reid, who produced, also played guitar and electric sitar (which is buzzing in the back ground on this track). An insistent pattern throughout gives resonances of old-time blues piano. The two guitar lines criss cross in places, one in the front of the mix sounding almost like a harmolodic B.B. King – Ulmer -and Vernon Reid way back in the recording offering a separation in acoustic space as well stylistically. For a simple song, this is quite a dense arrangement - a swirling high organ line and flute-like sound (organ again?) (shades of 'Blonde on Blonde') emerge in places as well as other scattered keyboard obbligatos. The 'Bitches Brew/Prime Time templates crossed and homaged? (Via Ronald Shannon Jackson whom Reid worked with in the harmolodic extravaganza of Decoding Society?) Of course, given modern techniques, these additions don't crash the mix out into the distorted levels found in earlier times such as on the Larry Young track or...

... where much of this started. To end - a track from the seminal 'Bitches Brew' (1969) – 'Spanish Key.' Chopping guitar reminiscent of Steve Cropper over at Stax in Memphis as well as James Brown's rhythm section, driving drums, bass ostinatos, three electric pianos playing tag, Miles flying over it all beautifully. McLaughlin throwing in longer splintered lines as the track progresses. Soprano wailings as cymbals hiss and spit. Deep dark bass clarinet. The recording sound is bursting at the seams with the inter-locking activities and clashing timbres of this band – it must have been hell to mike up, but the raw freshness slaps out at you. Collective improvisation that reflects so much of what had gone before, was happening then – and what was to come... singing the body electric...

One final thought: the extent to which the electric guitar influenced jazz from the sixties onwards is enormous. Beyond the instrument's deployment in whatever purely instrumental context, its timbral qualities and possibilities for higher volume levels were even more important. Listen to many of the keyboard sounds on the Larry Young and the Miles tracks – they sound guitar-like, distorted by overdriven amps and wah wah pedals. Miles of course plugged his trumpet in and added effects to bend its sound even more into wild emulations of the electric fires that were started by Hendrix and continued by Sharrock and Ulmer... the relatively clean sound of earlier post-Charlie Christian jazz guitar had been left in the dust... for a while...

Larry Young

(Larry Young: org, bongos, voc;Charles Magee:tp; Dennis Mourouse:sax; Pharoah Sanders:sax, voc;Cedric Lawson: el-p; Poppy La Boy, Armen Halburian, Jumma Santos:perc; Abdul Shahid, Howard T.King, James Flores:dr;Stacey Edwards,
Umar Abdul Muizz:congas; Don Pate, uni Booth: b;James Ulmer:g;Diedre Johnson:c; Art Gore: el-p, dr; Abdul Hakim:bongos).

Khalid of space


Sonny Sharrock
(Sonny Sharrock: electric guitar; Linda Sharrock: vocals; Dave Burrell: piano; bass: Norris Jones; drums: Milford Graves).


James Blood Ulmer
(Personnel for album - James Blood Ulmer:guitars, vocals; Vernon Reid: guitars, electric sitar; Banjo; Leon Grunbaum: keyboards; Charlie Burnham: fiddle, mandolin; David Barnes: harmonica; Mark Peterson: bass; Aurbry Dayle: drums; Queen Ester: vocals; Olu Dara: pocket trumpet).

Trouble in Mind


Miles Davis

Spanish Key


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Harmolodic Stories... James Blood Ulmer...Tales of Captain Black...

James 'Blood' Ulmer was born in South Carolina, moved to Pittsbugh, Columbus, Ohio and later Detroit early in his career and arrived in New York in 1971 where he eventually encountered Ornette Coleman with whom he played extensively in the coming years (as documented on the video I have chosen below from 1974). His first session as leader in 1979 was produced by the altoist who also played on the date.

This record - Tales of Captain Black' - featured a quartet with Ornette on sax, Jaamaladeen Tacuma on electric bass and Denardo Coleman on drums. And it's a wild ride – a scrawling swagger of a record. This is what jazz-fusion should have sounded like post Miles Davis 'Bitches Brew' and never did (with a few notable exceptions – mainly perpetrated by Miles himself).
The two selections I have chosen are 'Moons shine' and 'Revelation March.' In both, there are high levels of energy maintained all the way through as the lines weave in and out to establish a harmolodic democracy – Tacuma's speedy funk bass timbrally entwining with Ulmer's guitar especially- driven by Denardo Coleman's hyperactive, skittering drums. In his solos Ornette skims across the top, employing his long-used strategies of long stretched notes in tandem with fast flurries that lock suddenly on to the beat. He is recorded slightly back in the mix (as producer this was no doubt intentional – to play down his contribution?) - in contrast to his son's drums that are stompingly up front. Yet his mark is all over the record: for example, all the themes are by Ulmer yet they have an Ornettish flavour to them. Not to downplay Ulmer's contributions – he really is good on his first session as leader, firing off single note lines and savagely strummed chords that crosswire jazz and funk and blues with the aggression of the downtown post-punk scene.

A last thought on Ornette – I have speculated before that his Texas musical heritage played a large part in his conceptions of improvisation at the ensemble level – especially with Prime Time's incorporation of different musics into the harmolodic whole. There is an interesting vertical take to his music which is implicit in his theories as I understand them. My paradigm back in Texas would have been Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys who were massively popular in the late thirties and forties with their unique brand of western swing, a music that embedded simultaneous but different levels of country, blues, jazz, folk and is a reflection of the border state's disparate musical traditions. Ornette's Prime Time bands seem to have a flavour of this eclecticism – without any compromise of power or improvisational strategies – in their dense strata of rhythms, bass lines and guitars that chatter away underneath his alto playing.

James Blood Ulmer
(James Blood Ulmer: guitar; Ornette Coleman: alto saxophone; Jaamaladeen Tacuma: electric bass; Denardo Coleman: drums).


Moons shine

Revelation march


To compare Ornette's electric explorations with the other main father of jazz-rock/fusion – here's some links to videos, one of Ornette's Prime Time band from 1979 plus one with Ulmer interestingly from 1974 and one of Miles' later electric lineups plus an allstar jamboree from Paris in 1991. Also interesting to compare the two Ornette performances – the contrast in rhythm is especially noticeable – Billy Higgins on the earlier track is much more 'jazzy' compared to the the double drum assault with Prime Time of Denardo and Ronald Shannon Jackson...

Ornette Coleman and Prime Time 1979

Ornette Coleman Quartet 1974
Interesting on this because of James Blood Ullmer on guitar

Miles Davis Call it anything

Miles Davis and friends Paris 1991

Monday, July 17, 2006

Gren Bartley, Tom Kitching, Frank Marmion - at the Vat and Fiddle, Nottingham, Sunday, 16th July, 2006...

A hot day. I arrived in Nottingham early so repaired to the Bentinck for fluids – a pleasant surprise: the test match on several screens. I was tempted to stay there for the afternoon... But duty called...

The Vat and Fiddle Sunday session is becoming a regular feature for the boys – Gren and Tom, backed up with the Blessed Frank Marmion's experience. The crowd were thin on the ground today – due to the extremely hot weather - although the bar filled up later and there were plenty of people outside within earshot on the benches. The format is usually the same – Frank and Tom to start, then Gren and Tom, with room for various solo slots as and when. I don't know if it was the weather and/or the comparatively smaller crowd that spurred him on but Tom especially seemed on fire – here is a young violinist who is travelling fast in his acquisition not just of instrumental technique but the incrementing experience of playing in all sorts of situations. His lines ripped out of his instrument in long flowing streams. What timbre is lost between an electric pickup and an old pa is made up for by the inventions. Frank was in good form, playing off his usual repertoire but adding a couple of new/oldies – 'Sinnerman,' for example which I have not heard for about thirty years – ideal for a freewheeling gig like this as you can bend it anywhere and add/subtract verses as needed. Good song to play after much drink when the memory is not what it could be – not to imply that any conduct unbecoming would occur in this company, of course... professionals all, young and old...

On the face of it, you would figure that Gren Bartley's music would not translate well into the rough and tumble of a bar gig – yet it does, the exemplary picking and delicate yet strong singing across a wide variety of songs – Tom Waits, Skip James, Eric Bibb to his self-penned material – combining to give a hip yet accessible package. Add Tom's violin to the equation and you have what I have called elsewhere a kind of 'chamber folk' – with a flexibility that stretches from the traditional tunes where the interplay between guitar and violin combines beautifully to the songs where violin adds a strong counterpoint taht give4s them an extra performative dimension. These two seem at home just playing music – and not bothering too much about the artificial barriers erected across the idioms, marked by 'traditional' and 'contemporary' for example...

Summer supreme sounds... and the venue is a good one, a variety of beers for those who know about these things (I'm a Grolsch man, myself...), friendly staff and only a short (stagger) walk from Nottingham railway station...

Also in attendance - the legendary 'Wild Bill' Taggart and his partner, the rather lovely Sharon, late of New Jersey. And Chris, sitting with the Blessed F...

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Peter Brötzmann Octet...Machine Gun...

I welcome myself back into blogdom... to re-commence operations - as vaguely promised before the interregnum of moving house and lack of broadband communications – with another long seminal track from the Sixties avant garde – 'Machine Gun' by the Peter Brötzmann Octet. A statement of collective aesthetic intent in the journey towards establishing a genuinely European form of improvised music. Under, of course, the inescapable heavy shadows of the American masters as typified by Evan Parker: John Coltrane, Peter Brötzmann: Albert Ayler, for example – which provides maybe another level of tension. Among the many extant in the quasi-revolutionary year of 1968 ('We shall fight we shall win London Paris Rome Berlin' - for the more sentimental of the old left still hanging on out there living the dead dreams... headline from one of Tariq Ali's comics of the time, if I remember correctly...). Not to deny the power and insistence of apocalyptic visions in the air after the brief mid-sixties liberations cranked up to other more violent levels – the crushing of the Prague Spring, riots and insurrection in France, Vietnam coming back to haunt America and kill LBJ's attempts to out-Roosevelt Roosevelt with his Great Society visions in its escalations – maybe it is too easy to cast back for memories with jaundiced eyes and ears that saw it all go down inevitably into the usual welter of confusion, compromise and sellout. Too much of a temptation to sneer at past youthful visions - to counterbalance the inanities of the Sixties Heritage Industry. Yet: there was fire in the air – music especially had burst wide open across the genres, reflecting and feeding the wider cultural push for experiment and new freedoms. The wild liberatory call to arms of 'Machine Gun' still sounds loud and strong. It has similarities of form to the great sprawling tracks of its predecessors – 'Ascension' by Coltrane's assembled and Ornette Coleman's 'Free Jazz.' Collective improvisations that part to allow individual solos to rise through the swirling soundscapes, fragmentary themes as loose binding. The two drum lineup of Madcap Benninck and the less well known Johannson (who was an early free jazz pioneer) provide a boiling rhythmic undercurrent that is the match of the two American sessions. As is the playing of the saxophonists... Overall, there is no idiomatic unease here, such as could be found between Freddie Hubbard, say, who played on Ornette and Coltrane's sessions and his leaders. (Not that I am putting his playing down: Hubbard was game, after all, for the challenges... as was Scott La Faro on 'Free Jazz,' who similarly was equipped with great technique but came adrift at times in the new and choppier waters he was asked to negotiate). A point that develops this a little further: one interesting difference – and there are many - between these recordings is the role of the piano – none used on Ornette's session, Tyner as usual sounding a little disenfranchised at times on the Coltrane, pulled along in the wake of the improvisational storm wind rather than rowing alongside. Here, Fred Van Hove bounces in and out of the ensembles and solos, making his presence felt through jagged chromaticisms way beyond the floating modal strategies of Tyner, for example. Under the sign of Cecil Taylor, perhaps, his piano is fully integrated – into the ongoing maelstrom.

Other thoughts: This is free jazz recorded at a pivot point in European history – the fateful year of 1968. Under the distant clouds of the concentration camps in the West and the still-present gulags in the East ruled by the iron hand of the USSR. Germany: partitioned and living uneasily with its recent Nazi past and especially in the prosperous West, the unsettled radical present (that would go down into the middle class nihilism and murders of Bader-Meinhof soon enough). Yearning for change. There is violence here and a deep desire for some kind of liberation and transcendence unsanctioned by the untrustworthy and dangerous past – yet seeking different trajectories to its American predecessors – the inner spiritual questing of Coltrane and the utopian, essentially humanistic Coleman. An existentially anguished yet perhaps emblematically hopeful ensemble who provide an optimistic reverberation from the Second World War that was still fresh in the memory - the sons of the conquerors, conquered, neutral and liberators (Parker, the sole UK musician present) united to produce a landmark recording that still cuts and burns... Like its American antecedents, it has worn well...

Peter Brötzmann Octet
(Peter Brötzmann : tenor and baritone saxophones; Willem Breuker: tenor saxophone and bass clarinet; Evan Parker: tenor saxophone; Fred Van Hove: piano; Peter Kowald, Buschi Niebergall: bass; Han Benninck, Sven-Åke Johansson,drums).

Machine Gun (Take 2)


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

waiting... waiting... ever waiting...

Apologies for prolonged absence - since I moved house a couple of weeks ago I have been waiting (in vain) for my internet broadband service to be set up at the new address. NTL will finally turn up this coming Friday - 14 July - hey, Bastille Day! We'll be back on the barricades of weird and wonderful as soon as I can get that modem cranked and burning - expect some fire musics in quantity to make up for the hiatus...