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


godoggo said...

Yeah, the Wildflowers stuff was what I mainly knew Lancaster from... I gotta say I don't care for Murray on that (I often don't care for him; occasionally he impresses me).

I think the ultimate Contortions track is "Dish it Out," the opening track from the No Wave compilation No New York. This was the first thing I ever heard by Chance (on the radio), and frankly everything else I've heard has been a disappointment.

It's not quite right to call the Contortions punk rock No Wave bands quite self consciously distinguished themselves from it. Simon Reynolds considers them part of the (mainly British) post-punk movement, which seems about right to me. Around the same time, there was a record called No Wave by, I believe, a trio of Shannon-Jackson, Ulmer and Murray. I think these musical ideas were sort of in the air at the time. Precedence doesn't necessarily imply influence.

godoggo said...

And one more thing:
Lester Bangs, Free Jazz Punk Rock

St Anthony said...

There's a case to be made for free jazz to be found lurking in the DNA of what we know as punk. Certainly, thanks to the Velvets and Loopy Lou's Ornette Coleman fixation, or the Stooges 'Funhouse' stuff ... and the idea of an aggressive music in freefall, getting out of its skin.
Certainly, one can see it in the No Wavers, in their disdain for the first wave of punk, and what Lydia Lunch referred to as merely speeded-up Chuck Berry riffs. I always like to think of the No Wavers as producing songs that sounded like a series of middle eights.

Yay, footage of James Chance in his hip, skinny prime. The original Contortions were bloody marvellous.
And just as Chance was the first (from his end of the street) to drag jazz and whatnot into the mix, he also covered Michael Jackson before it was trendy to do so. Actually, it was only after Jimmy covered 'Don't Stop' that Jackson dropped the afro and started to sport the tux ...
'Dish It Out', from the 'No New York' stuff - probably their best studio outing. 'Flip Your Face', from the same set, is Steve Albini's favourite song.

What a fine band Defunkt were - they never seem to gain the kudos or the commercial success they deserved. Joe Bowie certainly had the chops and the pedigree ... I think I'm right in saying that, like Chance and many a jazzer, drugs waylaid his career to an extent.

godoggo said...

and sorry for the multiple posts, but I just read the "polemic" and it seems I had missed the point and I want you to know I know and so forth but anyway influence is a ping pong ball.

St Anthony said...

I like Sunny Murray - he seems a cussed old guy, which is always good, and has a long and glorious CV.
I can definitely hear Ayler's cadences in 'Hilariously'. Yes, who is Jack Graham? The alto is my favourite instrument, and he sounds like he had something to say. Good interplay between the horns, and I'm always a sucker for form melding into chaos and back. As I said, in a previous comment, the 60's were so much more than just the bloody Beatles. So much seemed possible, even in "merely" musical terms.

There's a lot to be said for relatively straight readings of tunes by musicians whose natural instincts are to tear the piece apart ... the version here of 'Over The Rainbow' being a good case in point. A lovely tune, given the proper dues ... Interestingly, David Murray briefly served as James Chance's sax tutor when Chance first came to New York. (Chance suffered a great many rebuffs on the loft scene, and claims to have experienced a high degree of racism from a predominately black scene. Then again, he was already developing his weird, spastic take on James Brown's stage persona, and attempting that within a serious, occasionally po-faced arena was asking for trouble).

St Anthony said...

The Lester Bangs piece is wonderful - poor old Lester had some very interesting things to say about jazz, (he used to, he said, listen to 'Ascension' while eating his breakfast ... actually, he wrote a very, very great piece on Miles, calling him a giant with cancer of the soul).
The affinities between free jazz and punk, for me, come down to the manipulation of sheer joyous bloody noise. Like Bangs, I am unconcerned with technical ability, what interests me is the imagination of the players concerned - one chord used well can be worth a million.
What's interesting is how players of widely varying technical abilities can develop similar sonic landscapes.
The old controversies about whether Ornette or Albert could actually play were also carried out in similar manner with the advent of the Stooges, the Pistols et al, in the rock arena.
I'd have to agree with Bangs, too, in thinking what a shame it was that Chance didn't play more sax - I loved his sound (that'd be enough to get me thrown out of most jazz clubs)and wished he'd used it more. I've got a recent DVD of him playing live, and he appears to have lost his chops to a certain extent.

godoggo said...

OK, a little about the jazz/punk connection, which I have comtemplated both occasionally and superficially.

Anyways, I'd known about the jazz influences on the proto-punk bands cited in the polemic, but it seems to me that they were pretty typical for rock bands during the psychedelic era. To grab a couple of not-so-radical examples from the pop charts, Light My Fire and Eight Miles High were both inspired in part by Coltrane's My Favorite things. And I actually first became aware of the MC5 from a similar polemic, which listed them alongside the Velvets and the Stooges as evidence not of punk's jazz roots but of its psychedelic roots. Anyway, the Ramones/Pistols loud-fast-short-stoopid aesthetic was a deliberate pruning of those roots; with so-called post-punk, they were allowed to grow back in new contortions. Jazz influence is all over the pop world, broadkly defined, continuously waxing and waning.

Rod... said...

The MC5 were always upfront about their jazz influences... especially the realtionship they had with Sun Ra - I missed this gig last year in London with MC5 and Sun Ra's band under Marshall Allen due to illness but here's the review -

not sure about these revivals though -

the sixties were a time of lots of cross-fertilisation as we know - jazz hadn't been totally pushed out of the frame at that time by rockand with the avant-garde coming through there was a deep interest in it from rock musicians - and vice versa. In the UK, the r and b scene had enlisted loads of jazz musicians into their ranks so there was this area where rock, blues and jazz met - also on the acoustic folk scene which I was a bit player on but from the sidelines encountered some great music...alongside my interest in free jazz - this gets confusing!

godoggo said...

There was also an MCRDK3/Sun Ra show in L.A. and I really regret being to much of a cheapskate to go. I did go to the 1/2 hour acoustic show the previous day, and at least the closing song, "Looking At You," with a Black female singer (whose name is presumably on the internet somewhere), was amazing. If I recall correctly Phil Ranelin, one of L.A.'s best jazz musicians guested with the Arkestra, and the rockers and jazzers did at least one tune together. said...

um, I meant DTK/MC5, and that review above does identify the singer I mentioned. I rcall the LA Times review as being mucgh more positive, hence my regret.

Matt Dunn said...

I'm a DJ from DC. I was looking for James Chance's version of Dont Stop till you get Enough. Can you repost this song? Thanks!

Rod Warner said...

Hi Matt - apologies for late reply but I'm away from home at the moment and using a slow internet connection - will try and dig out the James Chance track when I get back - I have a small backlog of reposts/requests which I need to sort out asap! Watch this space, as they say...

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