Friday, March 28, 2008

Charlie Parker/Dizzie Gillespie... Horace Silver/Jazz Messengers... Jim Hall/Bill Evans... Cecil Taylor

To be or not to bop (with apologies to Babs Gonzales...)

Bird and Diz at Carnegie Hall, 1947... Bop in the joy spring of its years... This is 'Confirmation' – of their greatness (I know - but - couldn't resist). Opening on drums, then the familiar theme in unison at a sprightly tempo. Bird up first, sounding relaxed, sudden flurries of notes breaking the line. Tone drenched in the blues, such a human sound. The double-tempo he frequently launches into and stays in for long stretches is stunning. Yet the tune is never far away – this is not just virtuoso playing over the changes. Gillespie next – soaring upwards to descend in rapid runs, brash, brassy and beautiful. John Lewis takes a solo from somewhere upstate by the muffled sound of it – way off-mike. Bass up briefly then theme and out. Rapturous applause etc... and rightly so. Glory Days.

Bop – to the birth of hard bop. Returning to the blues as grounding (although Bird was never more than a flicker away from them). Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers. Their first incarnation as a small group - Silver was to leave and Art Blakey take over the leadership. From 1955, playing his composition the ever-catchy 'Doodlin.' Silver takes the first solo, funky figures, a facet of his style that perhaps Bobby Timmons would inherit when he joined the band in 1958. Think Moanin' etc... Much dropping of 'g's, I'm thinkin'... Tenor next, Hank Mobley, sounding calm, a little detached almost, although spiking his passage with blues figures. Kenny Dorham then, as Silver plays an almost boogie woogie train figure underneath for the first chorus and a few bars into the second. Elegant and spacious trumpet. Blakey takes a piece, some hard hitting on and off the beat as his cymbals mark the movement through. Funky.

Onwards a few years – back to the cool, say, in 1962. Jim Hall and Bill Evans take a look at 'I'm getting sentimental over you.' Slow yet supple, weaving round each other in an intricate coupling, seamlessly moving between accompaniment and solo – blurring the partition, actually while not getting in each other's way - guitar and piano can create a muddy sound if the participants are not very careful. Here? Two hearts beating as one... well, I'm in a sentimental mood myself today... Intelligent and moving.

Cecil Taylor at the old johanna live and solo from the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1974, this is 'After All (Fifth Movement).' Repeating an opening chordal figure to suddenly spray a higher flash of notes across the deeper contrast. More complex harmonic terrain than above – yet still you find a bluesy snatch here and there that links to the tradition. Behind it all, however abstracted or disguised, the rhythms of jazz. European conservatory meets the Afro-American tradition (Cecil uses call and response as a major performative vehicle). Towards the end, thoughtful, rhapsodic and perhaps not so far removed from Bill Evans above...

A final thought on criticism - what it should be, as opposed to what it frequently has been and is, in all disciplines:

'Admit what you can’t conceal,' [Randall] Jarrell concludes in "The Age of Criticism," 'that criticism is no more than (and no less than) the helpful remarks and the thoughtful and disinterested judgment of a reader, a loving and experienced and able reader, but only a reader. . . . Remember that you can never be more than the staircase to the monument, the guide to the gallery, the telescope through which the children see the stars. At your best you make people see what they might never have seen without you; but they must always forget you in what they see.' (From here... ).

Not sure about the 'experienced and able' (or 'disinterested' - music is too intense an experience for me) but certainly 'loving' in my own case... and hopefully 'helpful' occasionally... I love the image of 'the staircase to the monument.' As a renegade from academe, how true those words are and how many critical 'monuments' exist, that should be knocked down for 'staircases.'

Oo-pop-a-da - to end where we started, with Babs Gonzales...

Charlie Parker (as) Dizzie Gillespie (t) John Lewis (p) Al McKibbon (b) Joe Harris (d)


Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers
Horace Silver (p) Kenny Dorham (t) Hank Mobley (ts) Doug Watkins (b) Art Blakey (d)


Jim Hall (g) Bill Evans (p)
I'm getting sentimental over you


Cecil Taylor (p)
After All (Fifth Movement)


Ummm... and eartrip magazine...

I was on the way out tonight (to hear some music, not in the sense of snuffing it, you understand) but when I stuck my head out the door something - guilt at lack of blogging or the cold wind or the gust of rain coming in on the breeze from Lincolnshire - or a combo of these factors - brought me back in again. I suppose one develops a certain blogging fatigue anyway - my posting have been somewhat sporadic for a while now. But one makes the effort - the rewards outweigh the hassle overall and I blog because I both enjoy it and (I think) benefit from the discipline... I had intended to post a review of the Pete Morton gig last week but did not want to duplicate a lot of what I said here in a long, rambling writeup sometime back so - back-burnered slightly, as I realised I could write about Pete from a different and broader angle concerning his relationship to contemporary acoustic 'folk' music which would cover some wider issues I have been concerned with. Soon, hopefully...

Some mp3s to follow later - but first a mention of a new venture - I received a mail alerting me to the first issue of 'eartrip' magazine, available here (scroll down) as a PDF download. Anyone interested in 'Jazz, Improv, Other' should grab this asap and support the venture -a lot of hard work has obviously gone into its production. Mucho informative and entertaining stuff delivered with energy and love - and I've only scratched the surface so far. Congratulations to David Grundy for getting this out...

So: search for the corkscrew and start uploading the music...

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Pete Morton...

Recovering from last night - a brilliant gig (as ever - can't remember a bad one in over twenty years) by old favourite Pete Morton - review to follow, no doubt...

Friday, March 21, 2008

Art Tatum... James Emery... Oliver Nelson... Amina Claudine Myers... Bessie Smith

Art Tatum steps elegantly into 'A Foggy Day,' followed by the sour-sweet alto of Bennie Carter. From the album 'Tatum Group Masterpieces, Volume One,' a classic track. Carter is magisterial, imperious even, one of the great saxophonists in jazz, yet one perhaps overshadowed by Bird and Johnny Hodges on alto, perhaps because of his long time spent in the studios as an in-demand arranger. The evidence for his real standing speaks out in the theme statements and solos... Good overview of his astoundingly long career here...
Tatum still causes critical splits, with some not able to enter his sound-world of overwhelming, swirling, rapidfire piano. Me – I love him. You can hear his stride influences clearly here, overlaid with diamond-sharp runs and harmonic disruptions, Carter, however, well able to stand up to the gale force. Louis Bellson keeps it ticking over. I've often seen Tatum as the father, not just of the bop piano players, but of free jazz firebrand Cecil Taylor. Max Roach makes the same point, sort of:

'“Now you have people... who preserve the tradition. And then there are people who push forward, who perpetuate the continuum by trying out things. Cecil Taylor is more like Art Tatum than a guy who plays like Tatum. It may not always come off, but that’s what creativity’s about. .' (From here... )

Swooning, vertiginous bass introduces James Emery's '4 Quartets Fugitive Items,' taken from the 2003 release, 'Transformations.' Throughout, the bass keeps a strong jazz reference going underneath the more 'third-stream' writing and European nuances. Emery has a unique touch on guitar, spidering his finger-buster angular runs throughout in sudden dashes of cool brilliance. An interesting composition which allows space for Tony Coe, Franz Kogelman and the bass player, Peter Herbert to demonstrate their ease of performance with this complex music. I originally came across James Emery with the String Trio of New York way back – with Billy Bang and John Lindberg – playing similar chamber jazz – with a similar steely heart.

Oliver Nelson and company play 'The Meeting,' from the album 'Screamin' the Blues.' A soul-jazz feel to the swaying gospel roll and 'amen' cadences. Richard Williams chokes out some fierce trumpet. Then - Eric Dolphy, who especially on these earlier sides always sounds in a different galaxy compared to everyone else. Wyands takes a nifty solo without slipping too much into Timmons-y cliches y'all. Nelson next, that wide-open vibrato to the fore. I always find his playing intriguing in that he doesn't play complex lines particularly (and how to compete with the Immortal Eric?) yet he threads them through on interesting logic and tonal bending. Somewhat more interesting 1961 take on more rootsy jazz than many others - lifted by Dolphy's wild angularities...

Amina Claudine Myers channelling Bessie Smith. McBee opens here on fierce bass evoking earlier vocalised guitar styles ending on a repeating note that strums into a guitar-like backing as Myers enters vocally with the first chorus of 'Jailhouse Blues. Third chorus she brings in sharp piano chords and the drums kick in. She lets loose with a hard-hitting stomp of a solo that references the tradition – octave trills out of Hines, classic blues figures. Going out with the return of the bass – the star really of the track, although Amina does justice to a difficult task, given that her voice, good as it is, does not carry the massive emotional weight of the Mighty Bessie...

... who can be heard here doing the original. Power and soul...

Art Tatum
Art Tatum (p) Benny Carter as) Louis Bellson (d)
A Foggy Day


James Emery
James Emery (g) Tony Coe (ts, cl) Franz Koglmann (fl-h) Peter Herbert (b)
4 Quartets Fugitive Items


Oliver Nelson (ts) Richard Williams (t) Eric Dolphy (as) Richard Wyands (p) George Duvivier (b) Roy Haynes (d)
The Meetin'


Amina Claudine Myers
Amina Claudine Myers (v, p) Cecil McBee (b) Jimmy Lovelace (d)
Jailhouse Blues


Bessie Smith
Jailhouse Blues


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Berlin in April...

I'm in Berlin from April 17 through to 23 - any info on music/art scene welcome... improv/noise - you know what I like (as the Big Bopper once said...). Music up soon - funeral of much-loved family member later today so things unpredictable in their timing...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Pee Wee Russell... Peter Brotzmann/William Parker/Hamid Drake

Pee Wee Russell playing 'Minglewood,' a relaxed 12 bar blues. Opens on a hoarse chorus from clarinet – choked right back – spurred by old school skittering brushes from Osie Johnson. Buck delivers some elegant trumpet over a clarinet obligato. Pee Wee returns solo, higher and less granular yet no less angular -a diagonal querulousness that ends on a breathy deep goodbye. Buck back, subtley placed notes, in the next chorus hitting some higher stuff to raise the emotion with the register. Flanagan drops easily into mainstream mode, a spare line of some elegance. Back to the emphysema-tone of Russell for a chorus before Buck rejoins him, now muted for some old time wa wa, as they ride out together. Sublime...

Peter Brotzmann with William Parker and Hamid Drake: 'Never run but go 3.' Opens oddly enough in the same hoarse querulous register that Pee Wee sporadically employs above but with more aggression as Parker riffs and Drake gets almost calypso-ey... High-register squalls over hammered toms alternate with Brotz drops down into deeper chesty vocalised horn. Tough shit lightened and opened out at the bottom by the clattery surging drums. Parker hits a fast four in places to spring things along as the tenor splurts out a dense cloud of notes, all the way through varying his rhythms and lines – pro-active linchpin. Sudden drop out – sorry about that...

In the Videodrome...

Pee Wee and Ruby at Newport...

Brotz on tarogato...

For the sheer fun of it - George Clinton and co...

Pee Wee Russell
Pee Wee Russell (cl) Buck Clayton (t) Tommy Flanagan (p) Wendell Marshall (b) Osie Johnson (d)


Peter Brotzmann/William Parker/Hamid Drake
Peter Brotzmann (ts, tar, cl) William Parker (b, Doussn'gouni) Hamid Drake (d)
Never run but go 3


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Review: The Loughborough Folk Festival, 7-9 March, 2008

Festivals are always an interesting exercise in selectivity – choosing whom you are going to see invariably means that you will miss out on someone – But I picked a reasonably balanced path through the overall fandango, given I had other time constraints which meant that I would miss some of the earlier daily sessions and the last sunday night concert. Starting with Friday night, the inaugural performance of the Loughborough Folk Festival with Tom and Gren – favouritism, yes, we know them well... Followed by a fringe session at the Pack Horse, an open evening for a variety of mainly traditional performers - a wild night. Saturday – a quick look at Lisa Knapp before going to another superb singaround and the big concert of the evening – Waterson/Carthy, via some impromptu sideshows scattered around the building. Sunday – watched the local massed Morris crews before The Young Coppers backed with Shirley Collins' stunning 'America over the water.' Met a lot of old friends, made a couple of new ones. Drank too much, had a good time overall. Much food for thought, about what folk music is now in this country, what it was – and what it could be... More detailed breakdown below...


No choice. Had to go and support the boys who are steadily making ground in their professional career. Tom Kitching and Gren Bartley, relaxed and on fine form in what was (potentially) quite an intimidating scenario as festival openers. A big crowd, who enjoyed their set – an interesting mix of traditional and contemporary musics and songs, drawing on a wide range of sources, American, English and beyond, plus self-composed material. I saw them only a couple of weeks ago on a club gig and was struck by the distance they had travelled in such a short space of time. Gren's voice has got much stronger and, by keeping to his own natural timbres, he is able to handle potentially awkward emotional/cultural areas – American blues and gospel - with a certain finesse. For example, his English voice gives their version of a raw American gospel song like Blind Willie Johnson's 'You're going to need somebody on your bond' a certain detachment that helps to set up a channel to the original rather than trying to copy it by crossing over into 'blackface' - which would be disastrous. Not sure why this works – but it does, as if by stepping back into your own musical culture you can better find a more accurate resonation with the source material. Tom Kitching's violin playing is expressive and strong throughout, the perfect fiery accompaniment to Gren's cool fast-picking guitar and vocals – plus his announcements are witty and he seems at ease with the audience. A demonstration of how to blend old and new succesfully...

Over to the Pack Horse for Frank's singaround session – one of those nights that make a festival special, where you can go off official ground and into a less regulated space. A chaotic evening – in the best sense as the room was jammed throughout by an audience good-naturedly accepting the cramped conditions especially at the back. A large battery of performers, high standard throughout, during which the local singers more than held their own with the visitors, both grand and anonymous. Overwhelmingly traditional – which is unusual for the broad church of the Pack Horse – but the atmosphere generated overcame the narrowing of genres. A great night, much talked about over the coming weekend. Frank came up trumps (again) with a lot of thought and hard work gone in beforehand that was masked by an easy conviviality and a light hand. Plus: the new regime at the Pack helps to make the pub a more pleasant place to visit than it has been for a long, long time... A quick shout to Theresa, the landlady, for her ongoing hospitality.


Unfortunately I missed the Distil showcase – would have been interested to check this out, the various collaborations and commissions involving electronics etc... But I went briefly to see Lisa Knapp – and left after about three numbers. Nice voice, but a shade too light for my taste and the performance did not hit any emotional resonators. The sound did not help either. No question of musical ability... worthy - but dull... Maybe she would be better heard in a more intimate club situation? . The problem being, I suppose, for a festival as overwhelmingly dedicated to orthodox traditional singing, if they brought in some of the current movers and shakers who are revitalising folk musics here and in the U.S.A., these may well be too far out for the audience they have, given the overall demographics of the musical comfort zone. Maybe not - it would be nice to see how Directing Hand, say, or Hush Arbors, to name but two at random, would fare in this situation...

The above comments do not mean that I have a dislike of traditional music. Far from it...the next session I attended was the 'Loughborough Tradition' singaround in the council chamber (so this is where they plan the wasting my council tax? Hmmm... Empty my bins weekly, you bastards!). Will Noble and John Cocking, the Orchard Family, Jeff Wesley were truly outstanding – although, and just by a whisker – Mike Waterson and Louie Killen took the overall prize for me. But this was not a contest - they were all good. The understated power and subtle emotions grabbed me mightily. But, hey, next time – turn the overhead searchlights off! An awareness of more professional lighting would have helped the overall ambiance. Too piercing, man, to quote the immortal Stan Freberg... Still, a masterclass...

So at last to Waterson-Carthy..... The Watersons were an old love of mine from when they first surfaced, way back in the folk day. Because he has been around for so long as well, Carthy you can take for granted - at your peril. Although he looked rough and was, apparently, suffering from a bad cold (much resort to tissues throughout!), in tandem with his wife and the younger duo - Saul Rose and Liza – he delivered a performance that was professional in the best sense of accomplished rather than slick, and powerfully emotional. They seemed to be firing on all cylinders – Norma Waterson and her blow-torch of a voice with her daughter alongside giving out the high-octane full-tilt folk boogie – interesting to see the familial similarity in hand gestures as they both reached out expansively, music of the body and heart as much as the brain, as if the songs they delivered were so deeply felt and embedded that they were being wrenched out of their physical being. Operating on a continuum that signalled back to the beginnings of the revival on the hotwire to the tradition – and forward in gestures of renewal - this was, yes a sentimental night on one level – but also fresh, vibrant – and fun, proving what can be achieved still in the mainstream of English folk. One number – missed the title, but chorus 'I wish that the war was over' - showed how an old song can still have relevance. The contemporary point wasn't jabbed in your face in a party-political or sectarian way but understated – which made it all the more poignant. The instrumentals were swung and bounced mightily – Saul Rose making a strong contribution here especially, (as he did throughout) coupled to Liza's violin, Carthy Senior's subtle guitar weaving in and out and solid underneath as and when necessary. And the vocals – Martin, assured and understated yet coming from deep inside the songs, buttressed by his wife and daughter - when Norma slides up from a note, in a melisma worthy of that other great diva Aretha – or Vanessa Bell Armstrong - she raises up the hairs on the back of my neck – ditto her daughter. Passionate heartfelt music.


Arrived to check out the Morris crew – a colourful sight on a bright, sharp Sunday afternoon. They were led up the street by a posse of young skate-boarders which made me smile – I wondered if they were part of the processional dance, Skate Morris anyone? Skate Morris punks? Some local Arts initiative to involve da local youth? Perhaps not... But a nice thought... Launching a new genre of music as well?

If the Watersons were one of the definitive groups that inculcated an interest in folk music for me back in the sixties, so too were their southern counterparts, the Copper Family. Both of whom proved, it seemed, that despite the overall cultural sidelining of traditional music in England, some musical strands, frayed though they may well have been, still linked us to previous generations. In 2008, to see these sons and daughter – the Young Coppers - continue in their family singing tradition was fascinating – and moving. It may seem almost perverse that, in a crowded and mainly urban country, so many of our rural songs, as exemplified by the Coppers collection, still speak to us so clearly. Maybe this is more my hearing of it, filtered through those earlier memories, but these songs evoke a particular place as well as time – an area that admittedly I know well, which gives added resonance. A superb and relaxed performance that overrode some small criticisms. It was pointed out to me, for example, by a friend and local singer that six voices might clutter the songs' harmonies– a valid observation, although I think that, in places, the lines benefited from that added thickening because of the relative youth of the singers. And any overlap gave the music a spontaneous edge, a loose feeling - almost harmolodic, to use a term from another genre - that benefits this style of singing. Anyway, age and experience will broaden and deepen the timbres to the warm depths and breadths of their forefathers. And the occasional mistake actually added to the easy manner in which material was introduced and set in personal and broader context – not a dry lecture on 'heritage' but a demonstration of persistence. And a subtle frame for what much 'folk music' once was – people gathered to sing in an unselfconscious way. These songs are not ready to die yet...

The Sussex link continued... Actually discovered by Bob Copper and following his family today, Shirley Collins delivered her extraordinary show 'America over the Water,' an account of her journey with Alan Lomax through America in 1959, the readings from her book interlaced with images and extracts from the original recordings, aided by actor Pip Barnes, who ventriloquised the various American voices superbly. Clocking in at nearly two hours, including an interval, it meant that if I stayed I would miss a large chunk of Eliza Carthy's set. No contest. Eliza I could no doubt see again – Shirley Collins is a unique presence, my favourite singer in the English tradition and a sharp-witted commentator on the same. Which meant there was no way I would move before the end as I witnessed a superb evocation of rural America at the end of the fifties: closed and often isolated communities of poor but culturally and politically dominant whites and segregated blacks, suspicious of each other (de jure segregation may have been ended in 1954 with the Supreme Court ruling on Brown v Board of Education but...); the strong role of religion in both, ironically not acting as a bridge between them; the fervour of both spiritual and secular forces expressed through their musics; the songs that could be traced back to the British Isles and to Africa. The sheer weirdness... Heady stuff. A history lesson from one of the stalwarts of the English revival whose good-humoured forward-looking presence back then acted as a strong counterbalance to the bossy purist commissars of the day. Some marvellous musical examples spiced the show, further illustrated by a haunting succession of black and white photographs – over all of which, arguably, towered the majestic presence of Fred McDowell, a star in the making. My friend Nigel scored a coup – by getting the Shirley Collins autograph on his old vinyl copy of Fred McDowell recordings... reproduced below.

Heady stuff, vastly enjoyable and much future food for thought, delivered with charm, grace and a sparkling humour...

Overall, then, a fascinating weekend, the traditional bias counterbalanced by the quality of the music and overall good humour. The venue was up for the task, the staff helpful, the catering and drinks side reasonably priced and available all hours, the one session I attended off-site was a great success. Hats off to the organisers. And I may have invented a new genre: Skate Punk Morris. Wonder if Jello Biafra is interested in a new project?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Soon come...

The Loughborough Folk Festival review is almost finished - delays due to extreme fatigue this week -the usual nonsense. But here is a taster, three photos from the weekend...

Monday, March 10, 2008

Slight Return... John Butcher/Xavier Charles/Axel Dorner... George Clinton/Funkadelic

Back from the Loughborough Folk Festival somewhat late last night... now recovering from the weekend fun... review and photos to follow... later... The album cover above resembles the way my head feels today...

So: a couple of tracks to pick things up - and little chat: John Butcher, Xavier Charles and Axel Dorner play 'Pamplemousse,' from a live performance on August 26th 2000 at La Chapelle, Saint-Jean,Mulhouse. Interesting interview with Butcher here and in this month's Wire...

And by way of a contrast: George Clinton and the Gang - 'Maggot Brain.' 'Mother Earth is pregnant for the third time.' Eddie Hazell on fine form here... Soaring electric elegance... Woot! Or something. Get down, y'all...

John Butcher/Xavier Charles/Axel Dorner
John Butcher (ts, ss) Xavier Charles (cl) Axel Dorner (t)


George Clinton/Funkadelic
Eddie Hazel,Tawl Ross (g) Bernie Worrell (key) Billy Nelson (b) Tiki Fulwood (d) Parliament, Gary Shider, Bernie Worrell, Tawl Ross (v)
Maggot Brain


Friday, March 07, 2008

Blogging lite...

Things have been sparse on the blog front, I'm afraid... illness and other chores - the usual combo. Today and over the coming weekend, I'm attending the Loughborough Folk Festival - some reviews/photos to follow, no doubt. I will try to get some of the usual uploads on site if possible. Wonder how the festival will turn out? Wall to wall folk music for three days... Ummm - as my old oft-repeated gag goes, I'm more Thurston Moore (or Brew Moore, come to think of it) than Christy Moore and the line-up looks pretty conservative. But there are a couple of acts I rather fancy and I want to check out the younger bands. Who knows, could be some surprises? We'll see - hey nonny... On with the Ghost Dance...