Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Lee Konitz... Art Pepper... Dave Van Ronk... Mance Lipscomb

A 1961 date for Lee Konitz playing 'All of me,' with the late Sonny Dallas on bass and Elvin Jones on drums providing his inimitable polyrhythmic fire. The initial chorus stands as a paradigm for jazz improvisation – the tune is hinted at, prodded, approached obliquely – simultaneously familiar – yet unfamiliar. Dallas provides firm-fingered support and Jones slaps out ever-shifting, edgy and always provoking rhythms across the bass player's steady four. Konitz plays wonderfully, calm and pipingly clear. Elvin takes a solo and some fiery exchanges with Konitz towards the end, on top of his game throughout... One of Konitz's best sessions -and there are, of course, plenty to choose from...

Art Pepper opens 'September Song' playing a long introduction over a minor two chord vamp before finally hitting up the main theme. The rhythm section, sprung on Mitchell's taut, wiry bass, provide a sympathetic backdrop. Interesting comparison to Konitz: Pepper has a sharper, more acrid and bluesy edge to his alto. Mitchell is very full in the mix, backlining the veteran Flanagan's piano somewhat to sparse chording and Higgins to a distant clatter of brushes. Maybe its my sub-woofer... The piano emerges eventually to take a thoughtful solo, followed by Mitchell, who seems to be having a good day. Pepper returns to emote over the returning minor vamp, sudden flurries erupting contrasting with some blues licks and long bent notes. Art in 1979, the September of his years...

Dave Van Ronk died a while back. Obscure, perhaps, with regard to the mainstream of popular music, he was, nevertheless, a seminal figure, via his influence on Bob Dylan and countless others during his tenure as the Mayor of Greenwich Village. A point I suddenly realised was close to home – an old face I knew back in Paris many years ago having just contacted me via the Mayoress of Bastille, la belle Julie – Sivert, who spent some time with Dave Van Ronk when he was in New York a long way back, encouraged by him – Sivert being a rather damn fine guitar player himself. And – one of the first finger-picking songs I learned was 'Tain't nobody's business,' via Van Ronk's version in the old 'Sing Out' mag.http://www.singout.org/ Days of innocence... This is 'Did you hear John Hurt,' a song about listening to 'a little old feller, play a shiny guitar.' Which just slides in under the wire demarcating patronisation and genuine affection. 'Old feller' in question is Mississippi John Hurt, that is, whose rediscovery fed another strong line into the development of acoustic guitar techniques and understanding of previous musical afro-american cultures. Van Ronk rasps his way through the song, his gruff ginmill voice complemented by solid, ringing clawhammer. 'Blackface' or 'Channelling?' To revive my categories... I would say the latter... Van Ronk found something in the old folk/blues of yesteryear that hit him in the heart – as did many of us. Which poses many questions...

Wassily Kandinsky, in his Introduction to 'Concerning the Spiritual in Art,' says:

'Every work of art is the child of its age and, in many cases, the
mother of our emotions. It follows that each period of culture
produces an art of its own which can never be repeated. Efforts
to revive the art-principles of the past will at best produce an
art that is still-born... Such imitation
is mere aping...

There is, however, in art another kind of external similarity
which is founded on a fundamental truth. When there is a
similarity of inner tendency in the whole moral and spiritual
atmosphere, a similarity of ideals, at first closely pursued but
later lost to sight, a similarity in the inner feeling of any one
period to that of another, the logical result will be a [REVIVAL]
of the external forms which served to express those inner
feelings in an earlier age. An example of this today is our
sympathy, our spiritual relationship, with the Primitives. Like
ourselves, these artists sought to express in their work only
internal truths, renouncing in consequence all consideration of
external form.' (From here...).

Many would allege that Van Ronk tapped in to that 'fundamental truth.' I'm a trifle uneasy with any revivalists raising up 'the external forms which served to express those inner feelings' and comparisons of white/black blues singers that look to find 'a similarity in the inner feeling of any one period,' but there is a basic emotional integrity to Van Ronk's music that overrides my general misgivings...

Mance Lipscomb was also recovered to a late career by the folk and blues revival. Some may have called him, and others like him, a 'primitive,' as folk musicians where regarded as such. With the best of intentions, no doubt – different times... But there is more skill resting in these musicians than may meet the conventional eye. Usually called a 'songster' (like Mississippi John Hurt and for the same reasons of repertoire) because he sang across the genres (as did Leadbelly before him, come to think of it), the Texan guitarist and singer had a unique style based on finger-picking over a monotonal bass (as in Mississippi Delta blues) – which he varied as and when – here, dropping in some nice boogie runs on 'Corrine Corrine.' One of my favourite versions of the old warhorse...

'Lipscomb represented one of the last remnants of the nineteenth-century songster tradition, which predated the development of the blues. Though songsters might incorporate blues into their repertoires, as did Lipscomb, they performed a wide variety of material in diverse styles, much of it common to both black and white traditions in the South, including ballads, rags, dance pieces (breakdowns, waltzes, one and two steps, slow drags, reels, ballin' the jack, the buzzard lope, hop scop, buck and wing, heel and toe polka), and popular, sacred, and secular songs. Lipscomb himself insisted that he was a songster, not a guitarist or "blues singer," since he played "all kinds of music.'

From here...

In the Videodrome...

Mance Lipscomb...

The Failed Nasa Experiment sent me this – Sonny Sharrock at the Knitting Factory...

Art Pepper...

Lee Konitz and co...

Lee Konitz
Lee Konitz (as) Sonny Dallas (b) Elvin Jones (d)
All of me


Art Pepper (as) Tommy Flanagan (p) Red Mitchell (b) Billy Higgins (d) Kenneth Nash (perc)
September Song


Dave Van Ronk (v, g)
Did you hear John Hurt


Mance Lipscomb (v, g)
Corrine Corrine


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