Thursday, August 24, 2006
More Europe... then over the sea... Ornette Coleman, John Zorn and Masada...
Ornette Coleman went to Scandinavia in 1965 and recorded the two volume set 'Live at the Golden Circle.' I bought this when I was living in London in the late 60's - and it still cuts – fresh and questing music from one of his most satisfactory lineups – with David Izenzon on bass and Charles Moffett on drums. 'Dee Dee' is a jaunty bounce, bass walking sturdily over the swish of Moffet's cymbals as Ornette stretches out into his own inimitable space. This trio could go anywhere, speed rolls and clipped cymbals accenting the gambolling sax. There is a lightness to this music, floating almost serenely in the free areas created by nerve and technique – and mutual close listening. And, hey – it swings. The strange thing is, given the reported historical pronouncements and antagonisms, I could imagine Miles Davis sitting in here... Izenzon steps up for a bass solo, out of the walking gait into a fascinating dazzle of technique, backed by the admirable Moffet – who then takes his own solo. I remember, being of a certain age, the squawks of jazz critics down the years re drum solos... '...public like them, old boy, but not for the true aficionado.' Well... I like drum solos, especially when you have a master at the traps... Ornette returns...Moffett building quite a head of steam, cutting sonically across the bass in parts. Return of melody. A quirky bugger that reminds me of a sea shanty or something, a folksy tinge to it...
With my usual elliptical swerving, an arc back to the New York concert in 1962, (when Ornette rented Town Hall – and broke even, I believe). The trio with Izenzon and Moffett had debuted that night – but I want to select the string quartet piece that was played, Ornette's composition 'Dedication to poets and writers.' An attempted double hit to connect to the wider 'orthodox' artistic world? John Litweiler quotes Coleman as saying:
'I realised that my image was... this illiterate guy who just plays, so I started writing classical music.' (P. 104, Ornette Coleman- A Harmolodic Life, John Litweiler).
A fascinating piece, crisscrossing lines that edge in and out of 'dissonance' – and that resolve almost unexpectedly on a consonant chord. (Litweiler suggests this was a joke...). Ornette's writing seems self-assured, a lengthy interrogation that uses the strings to advantage and doesn't sound (to my ears) contrived, expanding his strong melodic sense into the classical idiom.
Then back to Europe... Ornette recorded live at the Tivoli, 1965. This is 'Falling Star,' which leads on slickly(?) from the string quartet as it features the leader on (shock, horror) violin. And (even more shock, horror) trumpet. 'Shock, horror' according to many critics, who dissed his work on his subiduary instruments down the years. Both of which I saw/heard him play at the Barbican concert last year and thought that they fitted immaculately into what he was doing. He evolved the technique he needed – away from his fluency on the saxophone, nevertheless the playing environment he creates allows him to move easily through and spell out what he hears and feels unable to release on his saxophone. A man with a wide sonic palette as composer and player, after all... Coming straight in on violin with a sawing, hoedown feel until savage smears take it out further, scurrying figures and rips and snaps. Izenzon is majestic – following him up and down the registers then taking his own brief solo, his specialty searing arco working out before Ornette returns. The sonorities nearer classical, the feel – jazz. Izenzon solos again – pizzicato now, more fragmented at first with ringing harmonics before some speedy picking. Ornette rolls back in, ripping out more strong bowing as Moffett then comes upfront, a thoughtful solo with Ornette faint in the background, slightly off-mike(?). Speeding into more flowing pattering rhythms. Ensemble, then violin drop-out with fast bass pizzicato coming through as a bridge until Ornette returns on trumpet. A strangled thin sound, but seemingly agile enough as needs be. Supported all the way by bass and drums through the various tempo changes, Moffet rolling and spattering cross-rhythms with a graceful facility. I have remarked before how this music breathes so easily, stretching out to a wide horizon of freedom. 'Falling Star' is a paradigm for this expanded territory. The violin returns, finally ending the piece on double stops.
A tenuous link – maybe... Greg Cohen has been playing with Ornette in his latest group(s) – the two bass and now three bass lineups sandwiched by the alto player and Denardo... he also was an integral part of Masada, the band John Zorn band founded to explore his Jewish roots. I saw Zorn last year in New York but he was playing very much of a supporting role to the headliner at his club that week, Misha Mengelberg, so didn't stretch out much. Apart from that, he's a musician whose presence and influence I am aware of but have never really engaged with. In fact, I've just bought a couple of his cds – spotted cheap - but haven't got around to listening to them in depth. But now........ Over on Mr Lucky's rather splendid blog Orang aural, he has pucks of Zorn, as the Irish say (among lots of good stuff)... I had a quick download of the Masada band out of curiosity – and it blew me away. Reminding me of Zorn's debt to Ornette, but also demonstrating the vital manner in which he has expanded on that legacy by his embrace of his cultural heritage... This takes 'jazz' to new levels... and moves in seemingly contradictory ways - going back to changes and composed themes but out to wherever is dictated by the moment and the musicians' speed of thought and emotional inclination. When crusty old Wynton rambles on about jazz being dead from whatever arbitrary date in the late sixties he is pointing to this week (apart from himself of course) – I wonder: music like this – and so many other vital contemporary musicians' work – within the broad church of 'jazz' (that unstable, loaded word...) breathes new life into old traditions. It ain't dead yet... Ornette, for example, is still finding fresh sounds and spaces for his imagination to flow into... Coming from the Coleman direction in many ways (with a touch of the classic Gerry Mulligan quartet in the collective improvising of the alto and trumpet), Zorn/Masada is a new revelation to me... jumping, writhing, soulful, intelligent music. The interaction between Dave Douglas and the leader reminds me of Ornette and Don Cherry – it's that good... Douglas I know of – a fluent and powerfully graceful player, he seems to have the assimilated knowledge of what has gone before that is arguably essential to all contemporary players – but has stepped beyond by internalising it, expanding from it and using it gracefully – not in a forced way. Backed by Greg Cohen on bass and Joey Baron on drums (who is another welcome discovery), they comprise one of the best bands I've heard in a long time. A classic quartet - screw analysis anyway – some music just hits you... this is one such track...
Wikipedia glosses the word 'Lilin':
'According to The Alphabet of Ben-Sira, the lilin or lilim (singular lili) are the daughters of Lilith and Samael, engendered while Lilith was still Adam's wife. They are demons, with their function being similar to that of a succubus. While men feared them for this reason, mothers feared the attack of the lilin because they were also said to kidnap children, as Lilith herself did.
Upon deserting Adam and turning against God, Lilith was warned that one hundred of her demonic children would die daily if she did not return to God. She refused, and so it is said that one hundred lilin die daily.'
Far out... as we used to say...
'Lilin' is from a live set recorded at the Tonic in 2001, entering on a springy 6/8 rhythm that is redolent of folk dance. Strong drumming over the insistent bass vamp - then the horns state the theme. Baron is on fire, surging behind the front line to join them as an equal partner. Alto and trumpet engage collectively – one of the trade marks of this line up, lines crossing and re-crossing as cymbals smash to drive them onwards. Zorn's keening alto emerges to solo, closely tracked by the drummer. Douglas essays the occasional obbligato, rejoining for a chaotic restatement of the theme followed by more collective cranking up. Ebbing away to allow Baron to thrust forward into the ring. Clanging cymbals interrupted by abrupt thumps and tough-wristed rolls out of the Blakey bag. The bass vamp continues throughout. The horns murmur quietly on re-entry. Zorn and Douglas spar with each other, the tension mounting again – Baron pounding them along – high alto squeals and whoops from the crowd – they drop back then engage in a double time cross-rhythmic spurt. Cohen like a rock, holding it all together as the mayhem rises - and then falls into the theme. Crowd - collective wahoo. Superb. A sure-footed demonstration of dynamics and building tension/release... I will be posting more from Masada...
In the Videodrome today...
...the Peter Brötzmann trio with William Parker and Hamid Drake – elegaic almost...for a while – Brötzmann on alto...
The rather wonderful Chris Corsano with Paul Flaherty and C Spencer Yeh... Yeh!
Some of brother Zorn's Masada...
(Ornette Coleman(as), David Izenzon(b), Charles Moffett(d)
(Selwart Clark — violin; Nathan Goldstein — violin; Julian Barber — viola; Kermit Moore — cello).
Dedication to poets and writers
(Ornette Coleman(as,tp,vln), David Izenzon(b), Charles Moffett(d) )
(John Zorn: alto saxophone; Dave Douglas: trumpet; Greg Cohen: bass; Joey Baron: drums).