Sunday, April 08, 2007

Henry Threadgill... Cecil Taylor... Juke Boy Bonner...

After the sturm und drang of the wild and wooly sixties, things died down considerably on the avant garde jazz front – due a complex combination of cultural and economic factors. Yet much work was being done below the radar...
This Henry Threadgill track, 'USO Dance,' is taken from the indespensible 'Wildflowers: The New York Jazz Loft Sessions' – 'sessions...[documenting]... a period in the music's history that, until now, has been severely neglected.' (Taken from Scott Hreha's review here...).
Opening on a rapid-fire bass over spattering cymbals and ripping drums – a sudden pause and Threadgill plunges straight in, introducing a motif and tossing it about – fragments, short phrases the building blocks...
The USO dance must have required much fleetness of foot... I assume this refers to the United Services Overseas – Threadgill was involved with playing and writing for various bands during his term of military service. The band are, of course, the very wonderful Air), Threadgill in company with Fred Hopkins and Steve McCall – decamped from their original home in Chicago to New York when this was recorded live at Sam Rivers' loft in 1976. A perfect balance achieved between the three (worthy, as Bird might have said) constituents...

The drums have it... a stomping opening with snapping rim shots then Cecil lashes out some solo piano – hacking out two handed dissonances before the drums and bass pick up the tempo and Archie Shepp joins in. This is 'Air – take 28,' in a fast but steady time – Neidlinger's bass walking as of olden days. Shepp was allegedly never too comfortable on this session but by the time they got to this take number... he seems more settled. He drops out and Cecil takes over and lifts the track into a different dimension – mainly right hand work here, ranging through the treble. With the steady bass underneath as of Bebop of yore, maybe there isn't so much need for left hand – although it creeps in as he progresses through his solo – minimal prodding rather than sweeping ambidexterity. Taylor and the drummer trade fours... one of those fascinating tracks hovering on the borderline of the music... Charles is superb but Taylor really lets rip here – listen to the way they toss rhythmic figures backward and forward and compare his approach with the drummer... Eight minutes forty four seconds that helped to change the world...

Weldon 'Juke Boy' Bonner was a Texas bluesman who recorded in the fifties and sixties and died prematurely from cirrhosis at the age of 46. A blues life... Not so well known, maybe, as his illustrious forbear, Lightning Hopkins, Bonner has hard, sad stories to tell in an interesting and very appealing manner. 'Stay off Lyons Avenue,' is a fast shuffle also reminiscent of Jimmy Reed. Accomplished harp and strumming electric guitar – his take on the demarcations of bar lines reminds of Lightning's oft-repeated dictum in a studio once: 'Lightnin' change [chord] when Lightnin' wants to.' Which sums up the link between the freedoms of the old blues and the new musics... His songs are raw translations of his life and times in Houston, another link in the chain that leads to hip-hop and rap – compare to present-day Houston music, the violence and random nature of life in the underclass still sadly resonate – 'You go there green, that's the last time you'll be seen. You know it is..'

'If you had to choose a poet laureate of the late '60s / early '70s blues scene you would be hard pressed to find someone more qualified than Juke Boy Bonner. Bonner's songs speak beautifully and forcefully of the struggle of African Americans. While many blues song-writers focus attention on themselves and their place in the world, Bonner's songs display a social consciousness that stretched far beyond himself.' (from here... scroll down...).

In the Videodrome...

Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette play here...

DeJohnette again with Miles in 1970...

...Henry Threadgill talks and plays

Henry Threadgill
Henry Threadgill(as) Fred Hopkins (b) Steve McCall (d)
USO Dance


Cecil Taylor
Cecil Taylor (p) Archie Shepp (ts) Buell Neidlinger (b) Dennis Charles (d)
Air take 28


Juke Boy Bonner (g, harm) Alvin J. Simon
Stay off Lyons Avenue


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