Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Paul Bley... John Coltrane... Charles Gayle...

Killer band... Bley the leader, John Gilmore, Peacock and Motian... 'Turning' is an almost stately waltz whose brief theme is quickly disrupted by Bley's tumbling beginning to his solo. Peacock in close pursuit all over his bass and Motian interestingly oblique. Gilmore comes in on a repeated fragment that he tosses around, going sideways at one point with some growling granularity. The rhythm sways behind him with vertiginous shifts as he continues to run with a repeating/extending line, like a glitterball above a ballroom that sends out different refracted patterns as it revolves. Peacock shows his technique – a strumming, plunking solo. Back to the theme briefly. An interesting exercise in hiding the three four amongst a nest of polyrhythms...

Gilmore is always mentioned as having influenced John Coltrane in some measure... Here is the late great Trane band from the album 'Meditations.' 'The Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.' The gospel influence is surely to the fore here, in this wild, sprawling search for transcendence. When you play some really raw gospel back to back with this music, you hear the link, surely... The simple theme that emerges reminds me of Albert Ayler – another interesting influence on Coltrane – doubled by the other horn spitting out fanfare-like figures รก la Don Ayler. The theme is hurled up in the air and attacked from all angles – I have mentioned before that Coltrane's roiling spiritual quests in his music are unsettling, jagged, high-energy runs into unknown territory – far from the simplistic pieties of the New Age – if Kierkegaad had been reincarnated in twentieth century America and played tenor saxophone, this is the sort of music I imagine that he would have produced. The two drummers set up a blurring jolting backdrop – Elvin on one of his last go-rounds with a band that was soon to lose McCoy Tyner who was replaced by Alice Coltrane. (Not sure of the exact dates – but 'Meditations' was the last album with Jones and Tyner, recorded in November, 1965. By February of the next year when the next recording session took place, they had left... ). Pharoah Sanders emerges out of the firestorm to devasting effect – howling, shrieking smears of blood-red tenor. Moving into a two-tenor blow-out that evokes hunting horns at one point... Tally-ho...When the spirit moves...

'Touchin' on Trane' makes an explicit connection/homage to the dead tenor giant. But Charles Gayle is his own man in a different time – huge lungfulls of air blown through his instrument to release a dervish horde of notes and timbres. Here's 'Part C,' a fast-paced riot of joy. Gayle comes in hard and fast, underpinned and closely paced by William Parker's bass and Rashied Ali's drums. Ali, of course, was the last drummer in Coltrane's group before he died, the man who assisted him take his quest onwards by providing a free-floating undergirding of opened out rhythms. He takes a fleet solo here before Gayle returns, going up high in a masterly display of articulation. I've just read Phil Freeman's fascinating book, 'New York is Now! The New Wave of Free Jazz.' about the New York Free Jazz continuum - partisan and fierce in his attempts to right the wrongs of side-stepped and ignored musicians whom he makes a good case for being the true heirs to the 'jazz' legacy, rather than the neo-classical gang clustered around Wynton and co. Don't agree with everything he says, but the main thrust is sharp and true... I see more of the spirit of jazz ongoing in Gayle, William Parker, David S Ware and company than in the retro death grip of Lincoln Center... (Phil also runs a good music blog here...). Who hasn't read the orthodox criticisms of musicians such as Gayle – that they are somehow just copyists of Ayler, Ornette, Coltrane et al? Blah blah... Bullshit... They didn't get it then and many still don't get it now... And another thought, that Freeman touches on: maybe one of the reasons 'free jazz' is ignored to the extent that it is may reside in the spiritual impulses of so many of its practitioners – something that separates the Europeans from the Americans to a certain extent, given the more agnostic culture the former come from. William Parker is quoted in Freeman's book as saying:

'I think a lot of European musicians don't get into the spirituality of the music... But when you play free improvisation, I think God is there too...whether you like it or not.' (Page 78, New York is Now).

Gayle, for example is a strong Christian whose beliefs have led him into various confrontations and controversies. Coltrane, being dead, can be dealt with more easily and his profound spirituality hastily bundled out of the way. Critics versed in the contemporary pieties of post-modernism approach these subjects uneasily... But remember Albert Ayler saying, way back:

'I must have spiritual men playing with me. Since we are the music we play, our way of life has to be clean or else the music can't be kept pure.' (From a 'Downbeat' interview here...

Lastly, Freeman makes the case for free jazz expanding its audience among the young noise/rock/avant garde metal crowd... a phenomenon I have witnessed here in the U.K. Let's face it, this is not the sort of music that many (not all, to be fair) searching out a standards and blues changes band are going to get too close too...

And that's enough proselytising for today... From the spiritual to the profane... Here's something a wee bit more down to earth: Lightnin' Hopkins, the free spirit of the blues, performing 'Bring me my shotgun.' Proto ganster rap... an uneasy, dark track concerned with infidelity - with an ambiguity: a hidden metaphor for sexual impotence at the end? 'The reason I don't shoot you, little woman - my double barrelled shotgun just won't fire.'




In the Videodrome...

Hair Police – from their tour a while back – my review here – fucking brilliant... making the links between rock, improvisation, noise and free jazz...

Heretically, never a great fan of Billy Holiday – but this is classic stuff... fine and mellow... the band is ridiculous (in the best sense, Cynthia...)

... Lester again – in more voluble form, with Ella...

...Bird and Bean

... our own Pete King on Bird's plastic alto -

...Trane and Getz in Europe – with Oscar Peterson... I kid you not...


Paul Bley
Paul Bley (p) John Gilmore (ts) Gary Peacock (b) Paul Motian (d)
Turning
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John Coltrane
(John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders (ts) McCoy Tyner (p) Jimmy Garrison (b) Elvin Jones, Rashied Ali (d)
The Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost
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Charles Gayle
Charles Gayle (ts) William Parker (b) Rashied Ali (d)
Part C
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Lightnin' Hopkins
Bring me my shotgun
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4 comments:

Happy In Bag said...

Thanks for the thoughtful essay on spirituality, and for making me aware of that Peter King video. Bird's plastic sax now resides a few miles from my home.

Rod... said...

Old Peter King no slouch on the alto as this clip proves! Re the spirituality issue, it's something I'v been thinking about a lot recently - wondering about the differences between european and american players - many U.S. free jazz instrumentalists frequently refer either explicitly or implicitly to their spirituality - Coltrane, of course being a famous example of this. Charles Gayle seems to antogonise many people because he is very upfront about his beliefs - and I think many commentators are uneasy about this... but is has happened before... you don't hear much about Duke Ellington's 'Sacred Music'... Maybe the difference comes from the european culture being much more agnostic if not outright atheist - and white academic critics sharing that cultural environment? Might be an interesting area to look at sometime...

Happy In Bag said...

Here in middle America, Rod, there continues to be a strong link between Saturday night and Sunday morning. It's not surprising to hear "His Eye Is On the Sparrow" in a jazz club, or to see "What a Wonderful World" performed Louis-style in a church service.

Rod... said...

What we often forget over here is this cultural difference on questions of religion between europe and the u.s.- the academic world as well - on both sides of the pond, maybe - where much of the criticism has come from in the past/ongoing - also has a different mindset - something I am interested in as an on-going student of cultures... perhaps I may some a little more knowledge as my first degree was in American Studies and I had an especial interest in the times of the founding fathers, the religious tensions in the original Bay Colonies re Anne Hutchinson, Roger Williams etc - have always been fascinated by the religious dimension in American life that really does not exist over here to anywhere near the same extent - anyway - rambling away here... but thanks for your comments...