Saturday, May 31, 2008

Charlie Parker... Evan Parker/John Stevens... Joe Morris... Clifton Chenier...

Back to the source...

Miles leads in with youthful almost hesitant poignancy then Bird takes over to run double time in the main, all round, over and through this slow ballad theme 'Don't Blame Me.' Tommy Potter holds the line, Duke Jordan chords somewhere in the next room alongside equally sonically discreet Max Roach. After the bravura alto, Miles returns for a brief snatch before they end. The flash of Bird is not mere technique venting forth – his sound had such a strong yet vulnerable timbre, his alto saxophone truly a 'vocalised' instrument, that makes his speed integral to his overall concept. Head and heart locked in a mighty embrace. Perhaps one of the defining characteristics of jazz, apart from improvisation (which is linked to it as a moving ever-renewable expression of individuality), is the manner in which an instrument is so heavily connected to a player. This requires the high technical standards necessary in the search for and achievement of individual expression, the way in which a listener can pick out different players from each other by their 'signatures.' But technique alone is not enough - the notes would be 'empty' without emotion. Much of the excitement of jazz comes from this identification with individual concepts and their shifting relationship to the communal. Here – Miles's fragile muted trumpet is instantly identifiable – and Parker even more so. These are voices we know and cherish... Which reminds me of an apposite story that a friend of mine (The Blessed Frank Marmion) recently told me. When he was at sea as a young man a clarinet player came over the radio whom he correctly identified within a few bars – Jimmy Noone, I think. Someone mocked him, in effect saying 'How can you possibly know that – a clarinet is a clarinet, could be anybody.' He had to eat his words when the announcer gave the personnel at the end of the number...

Another mighty player – Evan Parker, in a duet with John Stevens. Coming from a totally different emotional and cultural area, drier, more rarified. Opening on small fragments over spartan percussive patterns. This is '19.44,' taken from the album 'The Longest Night.' Operating on the higher end of the spectrum – cymbals and sharp hits as Parker's soprano crabs its way onwards - this is very intense music, a record of two musicians listening and responding to each other with great intimacy. Going up to bat-squeak sqiggles – yet always under tight technical control. Towards the end, clenched drum rolls and spattering cymbals spur Parker to a longer line - the point where you can see very clearly the lineage back into 'jazz.' Evocative of two friends having a long-ranging late-night conversation that develops its own rules as it moves on through.

My favourite contemporary guitar player Joe Morris, with a trio session from 1997 , playing 'Stare into a lightbulb for three years,' from the album 'Antennae.' Commences with a jerky, fragmented theme, progressing into a three-way collaboration between Morris, bass Nate Morris and drummer Jerome Duepree. The guitarist splats out knotted, gnarled lines with odd intervallic jumps to keep you on your toes, unremitting and remorseless linear improvising. Morris has a purist gunslinger ethos, little tinkering with the sound of his guitar which harks back to earlier modern jazz styles, but a total dedication to his art that takes no prisoners. Actually, once you enter his world, it becomes more friendly – much joy to be had following his logic.

"Morris has gone to the avant-garde well to test the brink of improvisational reason, but at the same time developed a quintessential jazz-guitar tone, dark and dulcet, its vibrato squarely modulated and inimical to sonic overkill. If Ornette Coleman were Jim Hall, he would be Joe Morris."

Said Gary Giddins, quoted from here... 'If Ornette...' Sort of – but Morris is very much his own man... And his cohorts balance him perfectly here – Duepree takes a rippling ripping solo followed by one of some eloquence from the bassist. Morris explains where the inspiration for the album came from in the liner notes:

'This set of pieces was originally named The Green Book. Inspired by a collection of visual graphic aids by that name created by the late composer/improviser/pianist Lowell Davidson... Lowell's Green Book was intended to be used as a guide for improvisation. It consisted of a set of color Xerox images made by the copier running on it's own without source material. The results were dense blotches of random pattern and color. Lowell considered the Green Book to be one of his most advanced devices to be used to steer himself and his players. Others included index cards with different sizes of notes (these were similar to the work of other composers from the 50s and 60s) and his invented staves which were intended to isolate certain musical zones and sounds. He also notated on materials other than paper and used methods of notating such as making holes in aluminum foil and placing it in front of a light bulb. Lowell said that by looking at the foil you could imprint the pattern of light on your synapses and then transfer the pattern to your instrument. In one of Lowell's most extreme experiments, he stared into a high wattage chrome coated light bulb every day for what he claimed was three years-I didn't know him at that time.' (From here – scroll down).

Brief Wikipedia article on Lowell Davidson here... sounds like he was an interesting dude...

Some Zydeco - Clifton Chenier essays a slow-rocking mean old twelve bar - 'I can look down at your woman.' Smouldering stuff - and Chenier transcends the old musicians gag about accordions here with some fine playing. ('The definition of a gentleman is someone who knows how to play an accordion - but doesn't...')

Uploading this as Thelonious Monk solo piano moves into the Velvet Underground playing 'Sister Ray' on my Last Fm feed – whip it on me, Jim... Between those two polarities I can live easily... One of the joys of Last Fm – just when you think it ticks off stuff you know in the background something totally different comes blasting through – the latest being guitarist Pat Martino the other week, whose playing I did not really know before - what a blast that was. Stopped me in my tracks... I have some of his music arriving soon...

Charlie Parker
Miles Davis (tp) Charlie Parker (as) Duke Jordan (p) Tommy Potter (b) Max Roach (d)
Don't blame me


Evan Parker (ss) John Stevens (d)


Joe Morris
Joe Morris (e-g) Nate Morris (b) Jerome Duepree (d)
Stare at a lightbulb for three years


Clifton Chenier
I can look down at your woman


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