Saturday, September 09, 2006

Think of three... Alice Coltrane, Jimmy Giuffre... Dave Douglas...

Think of three...

Some more Alice Coltrane, sans harp, on the piano this time from the same album: 'Ptah the El-Daoud.' 'Mantra.' Commencing on low rumblings as the horns fire off some moody squawks before the groove that dominates the track starts to pick up – the iron string that all the hearts reverberate to here, to misquote Emerson. The horns weave across each other as Alice crunches out some biting chords. Ron Carter keeps the groove going and Ben Riley holds the backline with some punching drumming. Sanders emerges, building into some long squalling phrases. Coltrane' piano splatters colour. Henderson takes over – proceeding to growling, throaty timbral manoevres – playing more freely than one usually associates with him. Going into higher register, an edge of John C here being invoked. Chirrupping rasps to finally fall away. Over hammered low register piano and bowed bass the drums drop back and the groove flattens to deep thrumming. Piano building over the bass drone in scuttling deep runs, slowly emerging into the light as the drums return, some almost bluesy trickling scampers through the high register. To theme, with the horns back up front, before dark muttering over drone finale. The blues go east. In comparison to 'The Blue Nile' on my last post, with its bright shimmering textures, there is a more sombre tone to 'Mantra,' a whiff of John Coltrane's more anguished spiritual wanderings...

Jimmy Giuffre stands at the beginning of my fascination for 'modern' jazz as opposed to the traditional/New Orleans stuff that originally attracted me to the music. I've written about this elsewhere with regard to the impact that 'Jazz on a Summer's Day' had on me when young. - It introduced me to Thelonious Monk, for starters. Yet it is also the plaintive bluesy haunting of 'Train and the River' that I carry with me from that movie. Here is Guiffre five years later in 1962 – much later on in terms of conceptual advancemant – playing 'The Five Ways',' taken from the third album that this lineup made. In at the beginning of the free jazz torrent that was to sweep through the sixties, Guiffre was nevertheless doomed to be sidelined for many years. Critically, he was seen as arid, overtly academic, possibly because there is more of a European feel to this music than his trios with their folk/blues resonances. 'Train and the river' this is not...

'Free Fall was such radical music, no one, literally no one, was ready for it and the group disbanded shortly thereafter on a night when they made only 35 cents apiece for a set. ' (Taken from Thom Jurek, All Music Guide, here...

Yet... There is a fearless searching edge to this music – a logical progression from his long-term interest in counterpoint, to seek more linear freedoms? 'The Five Ways' consists of five different themes in a ten minute suite which are vehicles for improvisation. Opening with Bley sounding almost Cecil Taylor-ish. Rippling away behind Giuffre's minimal clarinet as Steve Swallow comments, playing a high almost bluesy repeated riff. Progressing section by section... an interesting examination of the balance between composition and improvisation that skirts abstraction but has enough timbral and idiomatic reference points – mainly from Bley and Peacock - to keep a hold in jazz. Space is a large and determining factor here as well. Chamber music of a high intensity – with episodes that have a jaunty if fragmentary lilt... I wonder if his choice of main instrument at this time was significant in his being sidelined so radically – the clarinet was never popular in modern jazz. I wonder what the reception – and sound – would have been if he had used one of his other horns. Interesting that Giuffre is another Texan – like Ornette... Don't fence me in, as they say...

(I have some air shots somewhere on cassette with the re-formed trio that made this album somewhere which I must dig out... ).

Interesting overview of Jimmy Giuffre with reference to this album here...

Dave Douglas typifies the modern musician who moves easily and skilfully across the old genre demarcation lines. Luckily, his ventures have not plunged him in to the career obscurities that Giuffre and Alice Coltrane endured. If Giuffre tried to accommodate 'European' techniques into his music, so does Douglas – albeit in this instance from the popular end of the spectrum. His deployment of strings on 'Bilbao Song' from the album 'Convergences' evokes the era of Weimar cabaret when this song was written by the old firm of Brecht and Weill (for a show ironically called 'Happy End' – in 1929...). A bustling scrabbling intro with the trumpet-led ensemble before the violin states the theme, shadowed by trumpet and cello. An episodic piece that drifts in and out of rhythm, stops and starts, leading to a duo section between Douglas and Friedlander of trumpet smears and cello scrapes then... a sedate re-statement of theme as the trumpet pops and snaps and whooshs. The strings slowly swoon to each other over a simple repeated bass before the violin returns to lead the piece to a close. A hint of Dada's disruptive absurdity in places, crossed with Brechtian alienation – and a sympathetic tenderness that binds it overall.

On a semi-facetious note, I gather that 'Bilbao Song' has been recorded, not just by the usual suspects (Ute Lemper, Lottie Lenya) but by such disparate characters as Chet Atkins (Brecht goes Country, anyone?) and Andie Williams (Crooners against Capitalism? - Probably not...).

Alice Coltrane has belatedly received some recognition, as has Giuffre. Douglas is a critical favourite in his many ventures and in company with others – notably John Zorn. Two from the sidelines and one from straight down the middle(ish)... such is the nature of the music...

In the Videodrome...

The train and the river...

and a fragment of Dave Douglas...

Alice Coltrane
Download
Mantra

Buy

Jimmy Giuffre

Download
The Five Ways

Buy

Dave Douglas

Download
Bilbao Song

Buy

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Man, your choices are both illuminating and sublime. For example, I have always been interested in hearing Alice Coltrane (if only because of her late husband--frankly), so I listen to most of her stuff once. "Mantra" is so much more stimulating than anything I have ever heard one of her band do. That honking sax at about thirteen minutes in just stopped me cold. Thanks!

Molly Bloom said...

Another brilliant post Rod. Brilliant music and wonderful words. I'd agree with anon about the 'honking sax' and how stimulating all of this is. Thankyou.

godoggo said...

Gil Evans did a pretty version of Bilbao Song, too. I once saw a very good production of Happy End done by an all Japanese-American cast, and my dad has a record of Lotte singing the whole thing, which is unbelievably wonderful.

godoggo said...

...pretty good version...

Rod... said...

... I have the Evans somewhere and you're right, it is good.

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