Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Sent to Coventry... to see Black Carrot and Evan Parker/Ned Rothenberg...

What a cheap joke - the type I love so much. Got to Coventry, a place I haven't been to for a good few years – lots of hustle and bustle, stacks of building works- seems a busy place... this town doesn't seem to be a ghost town any more... to carry on the eighties theme I seem to be locked in recently...

Found the Britannia Hotel at the back of the Cathedral – there seems to be an area of the old town still intact from before the WW11 devastations which I might explore tomorrow morning. The room is big and clean – a good deal for the price and late booking. So I'm sitting in the bar having a Guinness and checking out the locals – seems to be a jolly afternoon – the sun is shining, maybe the summer has come at last.
A small kip, perhaps - then off into the Coventry night to find improvised wahoo...

Saturday, July 28, 2007

A day at the races... Pet Shop Boys at Newmarket...

Back late and exhausted today so the complete review will follow later. But we had a marvellous day - the monsoon season stopped for the duration, the sun was shining... Went down to the racetrack to see my pony run, in the words of the old Lightning Hopkins song. I think the bugger is still running - along with the other candidate for the glue factory I backed. Rachel's luck no better... but she at least got to meet Neil Tennant before the start of this odd open-air gig. I've never seen the Pet Shop Boys before but have always liked their music - the show was mind-blowing, the sound clean and as we were centre stage about twelve rows of people back positioned right slap bang in the middle of the PSB experience. Got a lot of photos... More to follow...

Thursday, July 26, 2007

John Coltrane... Charles Mingus... Paul Motian... Jackie McLean...

...and I said that these posts would stabilise into more regular delivery. But: things have got hectic here at the Eagles Nest – which is yet again in transitional mode as we have to move again soon – hopefully to a more stable tenure. But one tries to keep it rolling...

With my usual amnesic panache – I neglected to mention the John Coltrane anniversary just passed, the fortieth anniversary of his death on July 17 1967.. Sorry John. So: here's a track from one of my favourite albums, 'Africa/Brass,' 'Song of the Underground Railroad.' Deep and sonorous brass drape round the sinuous folk theme before Coltrane comes belting out of the gates – full-tilt tenorboogie. Tyner solos next, restating the theme before taking off in a calmer yet sparkling diversion, underscored by spare brass passages. Coltrane returns, that keening edge slicing through before Tyner vamps over running bass and the track somewhat abruptly ends. Elvin Jones is superb throughout...

Mingus from the Fifties. Another restless, driven artist. 'Passions of a Woman loved.' Starting sedate and sombre before falling helter-skelter into stop-start rhythms and silences - Mingus early on was disrupting the frantic flow of the bop line. This spins off on into long melodic lines and rhapsodic piano jumping into a skittery walz-time and beyond - freely swirling passages amid cool and calm, Legge coltishly boppish scamperings, Hadi romantically eloquent, Knepper gruffly sardonic. Episodic evocation of a loved one? Like a cubist portrait maybe... This is one of the two unreleased tracks added to the CD re-issue (of the album recorded in 1957 but unreleased until 1961).

A synchronous segue – just pulled this out and the first track is 'Pithecanthropus Erectus,' the Mingus composition.. This blog runs on such improvisations... An unusual line up, the Paul Motian band with three electric guitarists, two tenors and no piano. Plenty of space to roam here – the guitars keep out of each others' ways. Lines drift across each other to form into a patchwork of some beauty...

Jackie McLean, the title track from his 1965 album 'Jacknife.' Lee Morgan was also on this date, but it's Charles Tolliver in the trumpet chair here, a fast, almost savage tune as befits the streetgang title. Cue metaphors for sharpness, cutting through etc... but you wouldn't be far wrong. Jack DeJohnette is the mainspring, swinging the ensemble powerfully, placing accents with a surgical skill, scalpel rather than jacknife, really...

Tomorrow I'm off to see the Pet Shop Boys at Newmarket Racecourse with the rather gorgeous Rachel who is their überfan... we have tickets for the Royal Enclosure - so this will be the first gig I have ever attended with a dress code... looks like fun, either way... I wonder if I have to wear socks? Which I never do from April to October as a rule. Damn the weather, in my head it is summer... a report soon...

John Coltrane
Song of the Underground Railroad


Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus (b) Shafi Hadi (as) Jimmy Knepper (tb) Wade Legge (p) Danny Richmond (d)
Passions of a woman loved


Paul Motian
Paul Motian (d) Steve Cardenas, Ben Monder, Jakob Bro (el-g) Jerome Harris (b) Chris Creek, Tony Malaby (ts)
Pithecanthropus Erectus


Jackie McLean
Jackie McLean (as) Charles Tolliver (t) Larry Willis (p) Larry Ridley (b) Jack DeJohnette (d)


Friday, July 20, 2007

Ike Quebec... Chico Hamilton... George Russell... Albert Ayler... Jackie McLean...

Something to ease into the day with as the monsoon returns to God's Little Acre – Ike Quebec from 1961, a stone classic session. This is 'Blue and Sentimental.' Led in by Grant Green's chording, a big-hearted tenor saxophone slow-dance through the old Basie tune. Quebec was not a big name as such, but a very appealing and thoughtful player with buckets of soul and a strong melodic conception. Green solos over minimal accompaniment from Chambers and Philly Joe, a guitarist with a strong root in the blues... Towards the end, Jones lets off a couple of sharp retorts in just the right places to spur it along...

Chico Hamilton from 1959. Not a fiery muse, rather: subtle shadings and leanings towards the third-stream with his deployment of the cello. And yet another fifties West-Coast band without a piano... 'Lost in the night' is dreamily romantic, Eric Dolphy, sounding less his usual spiky self, takes a looping long-lined solo that gives me an echo of Ornette. They always call this stuff 'chamber jazz.' A short piece with more to it than surface consideration might suggest...

George Russell from 1961 – with Eric Dolphy again.

'George Russell's significance within jazz is rather tough to evaluate. For many years he was almost entirely marginalised by the critical and commercial establishment.' (From 'The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD,' Richard Cook and Brian Morton, Fifth Edition, p1293).

Musicians would have been aware of his 'significance'... his theoretical teachings were a contributing factor to the spread of interest in modal improvising and extracting scales from chords in a new and potentially radical fashion. This track is 'Honesty,' going in and out of tempo, stopping and starting, a jaunty tune. Dolphy starts the solos – smearingly bluesy as all get out before he takes on the stop-start structure, spinning off lines with his usual consummate fluency, roughing out of the smooth by eventually progressing into some of those trademark wrenching intervallic jumps and briefly overlapped by Don Ellis who comes in on muted trumpet before reverting to open horn. Again, a solo interestingly rooted in the tradition, that flows out across Russell's underlay and beyond. Like much of Russell's music, Ellis sounds almost straight here – but not quite, there is always some diagonal movement, some little twist out of the ordinary. Dave Baker steps up for some accurate and thoughtful tromboning duties, another underrated player. (He also wrote this track, I think). Much of the accompaniment throughout is Russell alone, somewhat back in the mix, as the rhythm section drop out between spells of straight-up four. Swallow takes the bass for a sprint across light brushes and faint piano. Ending up on an ensemble over a rocking backbeat. A strange piece, that alternates between a twelve bar blues – and suddenly pulling the rug out to dump you in the open... not a bad metaphor for Russell's music...

I've not put up any Albert Ayler for a week or two – so here's 'Prophet' from the live album 'Spirits Rejoice.' Two bass players, brother Donald and Charles Tyler on alto join him in the front-line, Sunny Murray on the drums. Whooping and hollering in from the start, driving squalls of exhilarating brilliance. Some dense bass interplay to thicken the brew followed by a collective blow-out. Not a great recording technically – but the fire and spirit of the occasion burn through. Still.

As an ongoing heretic – I've always liked Albert Ayler's later music where he is grappling with a more 'social' element – the impact of white electric rock and a step back into rhythm and blues – in the spirit of the times. Reigning back from the balls-out free playing (well, partly) here he is with a storming blues, 'Drudgery,' from the album 'Music is the Healing Force of the Universe.' Ayler buzz saws his way back to the timbral links between the past and the future before Henry Vestine from Canned Heat plays a sure-fingered blistering solo. Then they both take it out before Bobby Few, who gives of his two-fisted all throughout, stomps in for a couple of choruses. This must have been fun to make. One for the purists... ho ho...

Out-in, in-out – I love these paradoxes of movement. Here is Jackie Mclean from the 1963 album, 'One Step Beyond.' The title gives the distance travelled – out but not too far out, McLean coming to grips with the playing of Ornette that had such a profound affect on him. 'Saturday and Sunday.' Lined up with him – Grachan Moncur, Bobby Hutcherson, Eddie Khan – and a wild, wild Tony Williams who is all over this track. Yet another tune with different rhythmic sections and lots of space in between them. Then it jumps into an uppish tempo as McLean takes his alto for a ride into new places. One can hear the influence of Coleman in the linearity and space he has opened here to explore – helped by the fluid, open drumming of Williams who belts it along in imperious fashion. Moncur enters, an appealingly gruff player, going down to some quizzical deep notes, a very vocal timbre to his trombone. Hutcherson enters cooly, spells out some rolling struck figures, dying off quietly to let the young turk Williams take over - amazing to think that this was his first recording session at the age of seventeen, before he went with Miles to greater fame. Some people just have it born in them, perhaps. Whatever - he steals the show, to end on an almost ironic cymbal spit before the theme returns.

Ike Quebec
Ike Quebec (ts) Grant Green (g) Paul Chambers (b) Philly Joe Jones (d)
Blue and Sentimental


Chico Hamilton
Chico Hamilton (d); Eric Dolphy (reeds); Dennis Budimir (g); Nathan Gershman (c); Wyatt Ruther (b)
Lost in the night


George Russell
George Russell (p) Eric Dolphy (as) Don Ellis (t) Dave Baker (tr) Steve Swallow (b) Joe Hunt (d)


Albert Ayler
Albert Ayler (ts) Charles Tyler (as) Donald Ayler (t) Gary Peacock, Henry Grimes (b) Sunny Murray (d


Albert Ayler
Albert Ayler (ts) Bobby Few (p) Henry Vestine (g) Stafford James (b) Bill Folwell (el-b) Muhammad Ali (d)


Jackie McLean
Grachan Moncur III (tb) Jackie McLean (as) Bobby Hutcherson (vib) Eddie Khan (b) Tony Williams (d)
Saturday and Sunday


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Summer is a coming in - or not...

Posting has been light recently, with quick flurries of reviews in between, but I hope to get back to some kind of schedule asap. Music going up tomorrow - tracks for the weekend. I spent some time today listening to the BBC Radio 3 replay of the Cecil Taylor/Anthony Braxton Festival Hall gig the other week and it is as awesome as I remember. The sound is actually better - I was up on the balcony and didn't catch much of Braxton's initial foray onto his alto saxophone due to mike levels but this seems to have been adjusted on the mix. I recorded it as well... It's only available until tomorrow so go listen if you haven't already...

Friday, July 13, 2007

In Celebration: Cecil Taylor... Anthony Braxton... Ornette Coleman...

Back home in God's Little Acre, pondering the music from the last few days... interestingly, on Night after Night, a commenter (scroll down) said that he thought the Taylor/Braxton show was boring... Maybe I am mad... But each to his or her own. Here's Anthony Hawkin's review for another angle. Thanks to be.jazz for these links (and the one to my review). I'm off to see the Pet Shop Boys at Newmarket racecourse in a couple of weeks with my friend Rachel – who feels the way about them that I do about Cecil – whom I suspect she would hate... It goes round...

As a small celebration – here are tracks from Taylor, Braxton and Ornette. Without much chat – I am on the clock today. First: I offer the gloriously titled 'Womb Waters Scent of the Burning Armadillo Shell.' Played by an 11 piece in 1985, this is Cecil leading the way with a raucously beautiful performance. Begins on a stabbing repeated bluesy figure and proceeds into a dense, multilayered extravaganza... on a wet friday morning, this lights the fires in the head, heart and soul... an all-star line-up...

Second: Anthony Braxton with Tony Oxley and Adelhard Roidinger. Opens on clarinet...

Last: Ornette from his recent album 'Sound Grammar,' which I have been listening to a lot recently. This is 'Sleep Talking.' If you check out the Youtube video links below – it is fascinating where he says that he originally wanted to be an architect – then a brain surgeon. But due to lack of money – he became a musician. Who's to say that he didn't achieve both of those goals with his music?

Do not forget – the Cecil Taylor gig was recorded and will be put out by BBC Radio 3 on Friday... available as a repeat throughout the week...

In the Videodrome...

Cecil Taylor
with the Italian Instabile Orchestra... taking no prisoners...

Anthony Braxton at Woodstock...

Ornette' musical journey and here...

Ira Cohen in conversation

Cecil Taylor
Rashied Bakr, drums, voice · Karen Borca, bassoon, voice · Günther Hämpel, baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, vibraphone, voice · Jimmy Lyons, alto saxophone, voice · Andre Martinez, drums, percussion, voice · William Parker, bass, voice · Enrico Rava, trumpet, voice · Tomasz Stanko, trumpet, voice · Cecil Taylor, piano, voice · John Tchicai, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, voice . Frank Wright, tenor saxophone, voice
Womb Waters Scent Of The Burning Armadillo Shell


Anthony Braxton
Anthony Braxton, clarinet, alto, soprano, sopranino and C-melody saxophones, flute (collective instrumentation for the album) Adelhard Roidinger (b) Tony Oxley (d)
Compositions 40J & 110A (+108B + 69J)


Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman (as) Gregory Cohen, Tony Falanga (b) Denardo Coleman (d)


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Ornette Coleman at the Royal Festival Hall, London, Monday 9th July, 2007

The sky was darkening and it had rained a bit in the afternoon and I wasn't feeling too good but I made it back to the Festival Hall... Tonight, first up, the Byron Wallen Trio – an improvement on the previous evening's support act. More 'jazzy' - not that I am especially bothered about idiom - Wolf Eyes would have been a great start act in my book - but context is all... Yet...oddly enough, if Polar Bear had played tonight, maybe they would have fitted in better... does that seem overly perverse? It's a point I will elaborate on later...

Wallen opened on piano – a slow, ruminative and rolling broad-chorded piece to get his feet under the table, as it were – eventually joined by his drummer and bass player. He switched to trumpet for the second piece and most of the set – showing wide range throughout from bat-squeak to low growl – an interestingly large sonic palette edged with a supple yet vulnerable lyricism. His themes used simple fragments of melody but were effective and memorable, often pivoting on the bass to supply ostinatos drawn from the melodies which provided a level of continuity that he and the drummer weaved skilfully around. They played confidently, seemingly unawed by the occasion and went down well. A point: they come off the jazz tradition but have developed their own strong conception – Wallen has a penchant for themes that reflect his African heritage and allied socially conscious isssues without beating you over the head – all the more effective perhaps. He utilised a shell ( a conch?) at one point, for example, and produced a hauntingly beautiful sound that integrated with the piece rather than being some worthy World Music add-on. They used freedom and space and didn't sound like a bebop revival band or a group overconsciously trying to be accessible to a wider audience... this was mature stuff played with great ease and spirit... A band to check out further...

So: the house was well warmed up for the main event – Ornette and his ensemble, underpinned as ever by his son, the burly Denardo on powerhouse drums. Two bass players were advertised but he sported three – Tony Falanga and Al McDowell with Charnette Moffett added – one acoustic bass, one bass guitar, one electric standup. The sort of lineup that needs to be able to stay out of each others' way – which they pretty much did throughout. Falanga was mainly arco – one nice touch I noticed that showed the strength of his technique - and his hands - on 'Sleep Talking' (I think) when he held his thumb on a note for achingly long periods to create a bowed drone while using his fingers to trigger flurries of notes. Moffett arco and pizzicato, used his footpedals to good effect – I especially liked the wah wah combined with bow to create a swooning swooshing wave of sound. The bass guitar was played high up for most of the set, giving electric guitar figures – with some bluesy chording that reminded me of Jim Hall behind Jimmy Giuffre way back. McDowell drifted close to noodling a couple of times but in the main laid out some interesting and pointed lines. Denardo the grounding force – cymbals like razors, a strong flowing rhythm throughout – he's a heavy hitter, which is necessary, I figure, to keep this band on the track.

Ornette was the arrow – saeta/cante hondo indeed, a searing, wrenching all too human tone on alto, plus see-sawing freejazz hoedown on violin – hip yiha - and spare, smearing forays on trumpet, an instrument upon which he has always been at the very least interesting, in my opinion, and which he plays better than some would have you believe. Ok, he used some stock phrases on the sax – but they were his inventions to deploy and he powered the ensemble onwards throughout, leading them accurately through those typically convoluted themes that stop and start and end so suddenly. Although the congregation is very much a democracy - as befits harmolodic metaphysics/theory, there is a lot of trust involved, shown by the way he lets his musicians run with the balls that are bounced out – backed by Denardo's rock solid rhythms. Operating on several levels, which is one of the fascinations of his music – his alto often riding in a slow drift as the beat doubles behind on drums and the others trade of fragments that slide off his themes. Never far from the blues, as evidenced by the loping dance through 'Turnaround,' a theme which locks him firmly in the back tradition to demonstrate where he came from -and the distance travelled. His present band represents something of a fascinating recapitulation of his career – from early freejazz breakthrough to Prime Time's electric weirdfreefunk – the electronic instruments are still there but not as dominant, the rhythms strong but suppler perhaps than the Prime Time experience – to his diagonal take on the european classical canon – a Bach cantata from Falanga that eventually mutated into – something else... His music has always been all-embracing and wide-open - so much to get in under the skies of America and beyond - and this performance amply demonstrates the point. Many of the freedoms he sought and discovered are created by the spaces that open between the different layers as much as by the overall direction(s) taken.

He came back to rapturous applause and gave his usual encore – 'Lonely Woman' – and no problem with that to hear again the hauntingly beautiful refrain – where Falanga's arco bass comes into its own, especially... The crowd wanted more, of course – but a seventy-seven year old can only give so much...

Last thoughts... interesting to consider Ornette with more of the emphasis now on being a composer and bandleader – the invention is still there with sudden flashes of the old left-field trajectories on saxophone, more so perhaps in the briefer but fascinating outings on violin and trumpet - but he didn't take any long solos tonight. His power on alto is still intact, however, marred slightly by a shrillness/distortion that crept in on some of the high notes and was more of a sound system problem – a reverse echo, oddly enough, of Anthony Braxton the previous evening who had been almost inaudible at first when he switched to alto. (Maybe they are still coming to terms with the acoustics of the new building?). This band serve as the perfect vehicle for him to ride out on with the overall fire of his imagination to drive it home. We came to praise Ornette and celebrate the fact that he is still with us and leading challenging lineups – this wasn't the heritage circuit. He deserved the warmth of the acclaim for what he has given – and what he gave this night – with such generosity.

A mind-blowing two days – Polar Bear seemed stranded on the ice to this listener - and picking up a previous point, perhaps they would have been better suited to beginning the monday night (with the excellent Byron Wallen combo's freer rhythms coming before Cecil and company). Ornette's music comes out of the blues, embraced electricity early on – and rock – and combined them better than most by keeping a cutting improvisational expansive edge that fusion in the main could not or would not attempt, so there was that sense of not being so very far from 'social' music, of engaging with popular forms in the same way that Miles Davis did. Taylor's muse took him down different routes. Can we say that Ornette was more linear, taking the older implicit – and explicit - freedoms of the blues into choppier waters, Cecil Taylor, with a pianist's conception, exploring – and shattering – harmonic forms with a denser formulation? Rhythm too – Ornette's was a freed-up bop rolling, Taylor's becoming a more abstracted pulse. But these visions are not mutually exclusive - Taylor uses melody more than you might think and the call and response structures of his culture coupled to a sharp bluesy edge and Ornette's ensembles achieve a thrilling complexity where the lines criss-cross through in often joltingly exhilarating counterpoints and spatial movements – but I'm reminded of that quote by Bill Evans where he says that harmony is just counterpoint anyway. Whatever... the final point is that these giants are still with us and still indicating from different – yet surely compatible - positions the dynamic possibilities of freedom in music - and beyond. There are no narrow roads here...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Back from town... exhaustion... Ornette review to follow...

Back from the big city to God's Little Acre... and resultant exhaustion... almost didn't make the Ornette gig last night - but I wasn't going to miss him and the music healed... surprise of the night - Byron Wallen... review to follow tomorrow when I've had some rest...

Monday, July 09, 2007

Royal Festival Hall, 8th July, 2007... Cecil Taylor... Anthony Braxton, William Parker... Tony Oxley...

The first half opening act were a bit of a surprise – Polar Bear. Uncharitably, after a few minutes I thought they were a pub group, better suited to one of those once-smoky back rooms beloved of the scene. An interesting line-up – two tenors, bass drums and Leafcutter John on electronics, looking absurdly young – much of his created loops spurred the action and he had the best of it, I thought. But reliance on overstated back beat – ok in other contexts – strapped it all in, for me. Tonight of all nights, one would have expected a local band somewhere nearer to the stature – and sound world/conceptions? - of the main act. We have some, after all... There were a few times when they let go – especially on the last number which gave a strong hint of further potential– but I wondered whether they have worked out the integration of electronics properly yet – as I know myself, it's sometimes difficult for a laptop to respond in live performance at the speed of the other instruments – so they are to a certain extent reliant on the laptop to point the way – here Leafcutter started with bowed cymbal which he bent into intriguing looping sonorities and towards the end of the set a balloon! You had to be there... But the tunes didn't seem to go anywhere much, the soloing constrained apart from a couple of skronk-outs – Lockjaw Davis and Johnny Griffin this wasn't. Maybe that was the point I missed – that they weren't just a blowing jazz group out of the bebop family or the free improv lineage but were trying something new. In which case the rhythm was too rigid for me. A consequence of the loops? – that they forced that backbeat – although when they got away from the straight four, it loosened up and pointed towards further interesting areas... Or just an attempt to reach a wider audience... nothing wrong with that - I'd go see them live again, to be fair... But somehow... time and place?

Maybe it was all about contrast. Which there by God certainly was... The second half opened theatrically with the lights down and Tony Oxley striding onstage to position himself eventually behind his kit – like a character out of a Beckett play almost. Then Cecil – live miked offstage or recorded - recited something relating to African myth, eventually to dance lightly onstage with bells rattling (ridiculously lithe for his age – I couldn't do it!)– some kind of invocation, opening the ritual. He took his place at the piano – and they proceeded to play a set separated into sections by Cecil stopping occasionally and peering at his sheet music to select another page. Was this stuff written down? It seems unlikely... guidelines, maybe, because how the hell could you notate it? To compare his playing with an element, water, would perhaps give something of the delicate tinkling touches, like a fresh stream say, that emptied into a river where the rhythmic current gets stronger, the melodies fluidly stretched – until you were being swept out onto the ocean, through storms and wild sunrises. He moved through all of those areas, analogically, closely followed by the incomparable Oxley, an old playing chum who knows the pianist's mercurial moves well. He has a distinct drum/percussion sound, crashy cymbals with a rough timbre that seem far from the light and crisp hiss of conventional jazz drumming. Sharp fast-decaying sounds, snare flatter in resonance than one would expect, higher pitched from other small instruments and a bongo-y timbre, only using the bass drum sparingly – possibly in deference to the sheer crashing power of Taylor when he forays into the lower registers – you feared for the piano at times... This way, perhaps, his insistent pattering and snapping collaboration cut through cleanly. A thought: anyone who figured that Taylor has strayed far from 'jazz' piano would surely have been confounded tonight, if they had the ears to hear... his harmonic language can be dense, much of it coming from the 'european' twentieth century tradition - but is is embedded in a fierce rhythmic/melodic sense that flows from jazz (and beyond in his cultural heritage) - call and response building up simple patterns into wild complexities, many shards of almost bluesy figures jumping out at you. An exhilarating ride – but this was just the foreplay... They ended to wild applause – the town was waiting for them with great anticipation it seems.

Next up, the rather wonderful William Parker who took a bass solo as his cohorts departed the stage. Arco in the main, with chorded stopping playing a mournful elegaic lament, with east-european overtones at times. A masterclass – he let loose dazzling runs and swooning, swooping glissandos fired by both arco and pizzicato technique.

The band re-formed – with the addition of Anthony Braxton – who got a great cheer. Rightly so – I was at the last gig he played here on the same bill as Cecil T – and he stole the show... What followed pretty much defies my powers of description. I felt I was privileged to be present at a rare meeting of truly GREAT musical minds. Opening on a sound exploration worthy of the AACM (where Braxton originally sprang from), a four way conversation with Taylor inside the piano, Oxley dragging out his chains to rub against various parts of his kit and William Parker using two bows at times to extract as much as he could from his bass – was anyone expecting this? Braxton on contrabass(?) clarinet, an abstracted exercise in squawked sonorities. He swapped horns throughout, going from the deep murk of the large clarinet to the high piping freedoms of the sopranino sax, via soprano and his alto – this last at first having problems cutting through – the sound was dense and complex, covering the registers. Oxley dropped out a couple of times, sitting with hands folded in obvious enjoyment as Braxton and Taylor took the music further and higher, tracked by the solid bass of Parker. Braxton went from sparse, repeated notes, honked and bent frequently, to chitteringly hoarse runs to long fluid reels of notes. Eyes were on Cecil and him, I suppose, for this unique meeting – yet what combat there was occurred under good-natured rivalry – better to see it as a high-powered collaboration. Cecil can be overwhelming, after all – but Braxton was equal to the game, pausing occasionally to wipe his sweating face and his fogged-up glasses before changing horns, having a quick listen before plunging back in, towards the end rocking on his feet, almost dancing in an odd sort of skipping hop. And throughout the concert Cecil used light and shade and a large and subtle dynamic range, not just blasting out for the sake of it. At times, I felt that they had truly gone beyond the beyond , to echo Albert Ayler's famous phrase about his music, that it was about feelings not notes. A mighty, mighty performance from all four constituents. Like I said, I felt privileged to be there – a transcendental experience. But, hey, I'm a fan...

And Ornette tonight...

Written on the run - wifi at the Travelodge in Farringdon - with someone playing some nifty jazz guitar on acoustic a couple of tables from me... a nice start to the day...

Friday, July 06, 2007

Jimmy Giuffre... Sidney Bechet... Pee Wee Russell... John Coltrane...

Sometimes you need a break from the honk and skronk...

Jimmy Giuffre has always been a favourite of mine, offering an interesting take on jazz improvisation that, in its understated way, anticipated and complemented much of the avant-garde's directions from the fifties onwards. I have mentioned before that first hit – Bert Stern's movie of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival 'Jazz on a Summer's Day,' which propelled me into a lifetime love affair with Thelonious Monk's music especially. But the other strong and enduring mix of image and sound was/is Giuffre's folk-jazz piece 'Train and the River.' A piece, incidentally, whose influence in English acoustic music circles was very strong- via Bert Jansch and Davy Graham... Here's Giuffre with 'Someone to watch over me,' leading a piano-less quartet – and Ornette came from Texas, as well... Hmm... not to labour the point. Opening on that woody clarinet from the leader followed by Sheldon's bluesy criss-crossing trumpet lines strung on Pena's solid bass and minimal drums. An intimate conversation... (And thanks to 'I like Jimmy Giuffre' for the discography details - I needed to cross-check the musicians present...).

Giuffre's muse was fascinating – taking as much from folk forms as from the 'European' canon, with a memory of what had gone before – although his sporadic sidekick Bob Brookmeyer was probably more overt in his homages to earlier jazz. Here is another clarinettist/saxophonist – Sidney Bechet, who was overshadowed by Louis Armstrong but who preceded him in his improvised solo explorations. I came to the music overall through a childhood fascination with traditional jazz – and hear the connections to later more overtly complicated and 'difficult' art musics within the continuum especially in the playing of Bechet, whose vibrato was as wide as the state of Louisiana, trembling echoes of which can be surely heard in Albert Ayler – who also channelled the earlier forms of New Orleans jazz into his wild ensembles. Bechet was a deep and ever-fascinating character, for whom the word 'mercurial' seems to have been invented. There is a majesty in his playing - but also the intrinsic joyful exuberance of New Orleans. The Feetwarmers session is from 1932 – at a time when as this article reveals:

'Unfortunately the records didn't sell well. The Hot Jazz style was pretty much dead by 1932. Public tastes were shifting to the less wild, more arranged, big band style of Swing. The New Orleans joyful style of collective improvisation that is represented here did not match the mood of the Depression era.'

Tommy Ladnier stands alongside in the front line, as co-leader of a band who, at the tail-end of one jazz genre, crisply encapsulated all that had gone before. But Bechet runs all over this up-tempo romp through Scott Joplin's tune. Henry Duncan takes a rippling piano solo encouraged by shouts from the band – but it's Bechet all the way....

Looping forwards... Charles Ellsworth Russell was an idiosyncratic figure whose career spanned the years from early sessions with his drinking buddy Bix Beiderbecke to his late flowering, via the years as a member of the Eddie Condon dixieland crew. This is taken from a 1960 date, ''Lulu's back in town.' Piano leads it in then Buck Clayton takes the first eight bars of the theme in his usual crisp fashion. Pee Wee takes the next – in his usual oblique, diagonal fashion. Clayton 8 bars again then Russell to answer and lead off the solos. Russell had recorded with Monk on a fascinating live session from Newport and there are flashes here and there of what makes the link between them not seem so incongruous – use of space and referencing the theme being improvised on. Clayton takes a fiery solo and Flanagan follows with some distilled elegance. Riding out on the to and fro from the frontline who let the drums through for a couple of swift breaks. Marshall and Johnson keep the uppish rhythm ticking along nicely throughout. Timeless is an over-used word. But this is...

Honk and skronk (slight return)...

And out with some fire music – John Coltrane, first track of his 1965 album, 'Meditations,' 'The Father and the Son and Holy Ghost.' A looping, almost ragged beginning with simple declamatory figures that give a hint of Albert Ayler's ensembles. Coltrane takes of with a stunningly raw display of tenor playing over a seething, simmering backdrop – drums up – double header of Elvin Jones and the new boy Rashied Ali. Bass is in there somewhere and Tyner ranges out of tempo across the rhythms. Pharoah Sanders overlaps his boss before taking over the solo duties. Skronking saxophone which gives off sonics that threaten to split his reed into tiny fragments. Mighty stuff... these I dig...

Jimmy Giuffre
Jimmy Giuffre (cl) Jack Sheldon(t) Ralph Pena (b) Artie Anton(d)
Someone to watch over me


New Orleans Feetwarmers
Sidney Bechet (ss) Tommy Ladnier (t) Teddy Nixon (tr) Henry Duncan (p) Ernest Meyers (b) Morris Morland (d)
Maple Leaf Rag


Pee Wee Russell
Pee Wee Russell (cl) Buck Clayton (t) Tommy Flanagan (p) Wendell Marshall (b) Osie Johnson (d)
Pee Wee's Blues


John Coltrane
John Coltrane (ts) Pharoah Sanders (ts, bells, shakers) McCoy Tyner (p) Jimmy Garrison (b) Elvin Jones, Rashied Ali (d)
The Father and the Sun and the Holy Ghost


I'm late, I'm late etc...

Lack of posts this week - the move into my new quarters plus various backlogs - trying to finish a new cd among other things - added to the usual health problems have delayed my schedule. Later today - mp3s and a live review to get back on track...

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Strawhead... Pack Horse, Loughborough, Friday 29th June, 2007...

It was a day of much ongoing re-organising at the hovel – so I was ambivalent about going out that night – exhaustion was looming... But it was the last gig of the Pack Horse season before their annual summer closure – so I duly made the effort. My ongoing strange relationship to folk music pulls and pushes me in contrary directions sometimes and I wasn't really sure what to expect as the last time I had seen the featured band, Strawhead, was over twenty years ago and my somewhat faded memory was of a loud, somewhat bombastic performance at the same venue. (Not that I dislike loud, given much of the music I play and listen to – I mentioned somewhere else that I'm more Thurston Moore than Christy Moore...). This time round, the band had foregone the p.a. The overall acoustics of this beat-up archetypal almost to the point of parody (yet endearingly so) folk club room are pretty good but the dimensions are longer than you realise and the vocals were not always so clear from where I sat at the back – perhaps some added miked-up help would have helped. But a small point, as overall, their distinctive sound – electric keyboard, twelve string guitar and a variety of other instruments: french horn (I kid you not), recorders, a cittern, I think and euphonium – cut through well enough. They also have a distinctive repertoire - tonight they gave a wide and varied dance through the tradition and beyond with always an emphasis on the military life, which is one of their trademark areas – navy and army – from odes to martial glory to bleak truths about the sailor/soldier's life. Despite some criticisms down the years, I don't see this as a tub-thumping exercise in nationalism. Rather, a celebration of the contrary aspects of military culture that also gives a wide spread of English/British social history with which it is intimately entwined. This ranges from songs about famous battles – Trafalgar, Sedgemoor, The Plains of Abraham – and famous protagonists – Napoleon, Nelson, General Wolfe, The Duke of Monmouth – to the localised experiences of the mainly anonymous participants in those conflicts. Tommy Atkins and Jack Tar, as it were... Plus contemporary ballads from the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, written from a romantic (and safe?) distance as celebration of servicemen. These could descend into folk 'camp' – that they don't demonstrates the skill and affection behind their deliverance. What I also found intriguing was the instrumentation – especially the use of french horn. Outside of classical music, this instrument has had a somewhat obscure usage – it popped up only very occasionally in various jazz lineups, for example – check out Julius Watkins and John Graas way back, to name two off the top of my head – and more recently Tom Varner). It fits the music of Strawhead very well – they use a mix of contemporary and older instruments to create their sound – which gives a distancing almost Brechtian effect on one level – electric keyboard on a ballad about Napoleon for example – yet this also timbrally lifts the song into the present. The trick, perhaps, is to solder that link from then to now into a convincing continuum that bridges the centuries smoothly. The horn has a mournful, elegaic sound that fits folk music very well – echoes of things lost and gone... Also symbolically apposite, given its origins as a hunting horn? Tally ho... Because Strawhead range across a larger area than most, they help to define a broader musical definition of what that treacherous word 'folk' can mean. Or even breach the barriers – who really cares? The mellow brass sound of the horn – and the euphonium – give an echo of village bands of yesteryear – the rural. And the eighteenth/nineteenth century popular stage via the ballads and the band arrangements – the urban. Perhaps linked together through hints of a military band in the evocations of service life long gone. To perhaps measure some of the distance, compare the Watersons singing 'General Wolfe' – a stark and harsh unaccompanied harmony performance, with the uncluttered grace of a non-conformist hymn. Strawhead's version, played tonight, is more expansive, fleshed out by rolling keyboards and chiming guitar that take it into a different performative area. I could imagine the Watersons singing over a coffin in a spartan church and Strawhead in a crowded theatre of the time, delivering an elegy to a fallen hero in a proto-music hall setting - with the french horn giving that added echo of military band parade ground ambiance. Oddly, I could imagine a collaboration between Mike Westbrook (especially his latest incarnation) and Strawhead... which would open some interesting ideological as well as musical spaces, that's for sure...

To return to their songbook – those who have accused them of being nationalistic – firstly, I didn't see it/hear it that way, but would say, 'So what if they are?' Each to their own – and their popularity says that they have an appreciative audience out there. Secondly – to deny areas of one's common heritage and ignore the facts of history seems to me to be small-minded ideological cherry-picking – at best. Not that one should live in the past – and one of my criticisms of folk music is that the worst of it often seems a frightened gesture against present complexities that baffle rigidities of thinking – yet to ignore a large and important section of one's heritage is equally silly. A difficult balance to strike. Admittedly... But: we are what we are – to misquote a local buffoon of our acquaintance...

So: a thought-provoking gig which I enjoyed immensely. Gregg Butler, Malcolm Gibbons and Chris Pollington present their music with good humour and the self-deprecatory style that seems to be expected in folk clubs – which conceals great stage craft and experience. Best gag of the night? The one about Richard Sharpe – who, played by Sean Bean in the television series,always seems to be standing, teeth gritted in front of his wavering troops as they face another onslaught from Napoleon's boys and saying: 'Who's wi'me?' Tee hee.

The added bonus of the evening was the local contingent - hardball unaccompanied traditionalists. Local stalwarts, Steve Thomason, Jackie and Nick and the three-piece Guffaw gave a stunning display of solo, duo and trio singing respectively. No great gap here in competence between floor singer and booked act – unlike the dear dead days of old. I suspect that a strong headline band or artist helps to lift the local performers, anyway, in front of their home crowd.

And, finally,a shout for club organiser and resident muso Frank Marmion (who also contributed some good stuff with his sidekick Dave Morton in their usual format to introduce both sections of the evening and compered in his own inimitable style) for another surprise end to the season. Good to see the hordes turned out to justify Mr Marmion's choice for the end of the season. As for myself – off to London this coming sunday morning to see Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton and Ornette Coleman... more of which later...