Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Oliver and Albert...

This time round: two sax players. Albert Ayler is one of the sixties firebrands who probably is still one of the last to be understood comprehensively and whose legacy is yet to be satisfactorily defined – aided by the fact he died young in tragic circumstances, with so many disparate musical threads left dangling. Oliver Nelson went on to become a well-respected composer/arranger, but his initial recordings were made with Eric Dolphy whose explorations splintered the walls of jazz harmony without bursting through totally into free-form freakout – but who also died tragically young – again, prompting speculation of what might have been... Dolphy is also present on the, undisputed I would say, masterpiece that Nelson recorded in 1961: 'The Blues and the Abstract Truth.' A stellar lineup – Roy Haynes on drums, Bill Evans on piano, bass chair taken by Paul Chambers, George Barrow as sideman on baritone – Dolphy on flute and alto. And Nelson on tenor and alto. Every track on this album has something special about it: the one I have selected is one of the most beautiful compositions in jazz: 'Stolen Moments.' An extension of the 12 bar blues in C minor, this is a 16 bar theme with solos over 12 bar choruses. Nelson says in the sleeve notes to the original album that he wanted to 'let the musical ideas determine the form and shape of a musical composition.' This is a young composer and player who is looking to extend the range and scope of jazz right on the cusp of the upheavals that occurred in the sixties. Working from within the tradition but looking outwards, he had already made a couple of albums with Dolphy in tandem. Who was technically far ahead of Nelson. But Nelson had his own game and here he plays a rather mournful/wistful solo based on a fairly slow, simple idea which he drapes across the tight rhythm and cleverly builds as he contrasts the lower register and the higher and almost steals the show from the more accomplished musicians: Evans – at his rippling, meditative best - and the usual double-timed flamboyance of Hubbard and Dolphy on flute (who, to my ear,sounds almost Coltrane/sheets of sound-like in his solo, rather than the more angular cubist intervallic line he usually develops. Or maybe the timbre of the flute smooths out the usual Dolphey-esque kinks and jags?) Nelson also has a distinctive tone on his two horns – a wide vibrato that neatly reminds me of Albert Ayler, who had a vibrato on tenor that Joshua could have used to good and destructive effect in front of the walls of Jericho. (And the more obscure Ernie Henry who played with Monk on a couple of sessions). Solos aside, the magnificent melody is understrapped by a great arrangement – note the way the insistent trumpet phrase towards the end of the chorus is punctuated by the ensemble horns building and subsiding and the repeated phrase finally switching to sax. This is composer's jazz of the highest order and, I would suggest, a neglected masterpiece.

Ayler weighs in with the heavyweight free jazz rhythm crew of Henry Grimes and Sunny Murray, accompanied by Norman Howard on trumpet. 'Spirits' is one of those simple Ayler tunes that seem to have an almost calypso-ish flavour to them. One almost perfunctory chorus – then straight into the blowing. Ayler was a master of the higher range of the sax and I feel that this is what got in the way of a lot of original listeners who just could not hear what he was doing – that, and his taking the music back at times to some kind of Ur-jazz that hints at New Orleans polyphony and street marches, an emphasis on folkier roots that was far away from the slickness of bebop. Murray is super-speed rat-tat-tatting on snare (that abstracted march ambiance?) crossing this with rapid, zipping cymbal work. His conception of the new rhythms necessary to the performance of the music is fully in place by now and gives the track a jittering, speedy propulsion. Grimes is steady as you go and also contributes a nifty solo which demonstrates that he had his own take on how the bass fitted into the new music. The form is: scrabbled theme statement, some tenor/trumpet polyphony that quickly leads into an assured Ayler solo, using the full range of the horn from blatting low to squalling high – almost a fast historical synthesis/recapitulation of the way the tenor had been used in black music – the fleet runs carrying on the bebop heritage but now extended and smeared into a new expression, r and b squarks, and that big individualised tone, the individualisation of instrumental timbres being a folk technique (inherent in both european and african traditions) that was brought into twentieth century music via jazz in strict contrast to the formalised 'straight' tones of the classical tradition as known. Ayler, on his second record date, already has his trademarks in place, had obviously worked out where he wanted to go. And had just come back from Europe not long before where he had played with Cecil Taylor, interestingly enough. That vibrato of his, though not so pronounced here as it could be at times, has just reminded me of a violin and it has been suggested that he had some influence on Ornette Coleman's development of the trumpet and violin – areas of his playing that still cause controversy. (Although when I saw Ornette a while back, his violin playing was great, I thought, and fitted perfectly into his musical conception, especially playing off the two bass players in the group). Howard solos in turn, fast flurries, admittedly a bit rough round the edges and he has his critical detractors - but I like his playing here: this has the feel of a club date transposed into the studio (maybe done fast due to economics) and captures, for me, the 'new thing' still in transition where ideas are being worked out tune by tune. Gorgeously scruffy – and an interesting contrast as a piano-less quartet to Ornette's first arrival and incarnation a couple of years before. This sounds wilder and woolier...

Oliver Nelson – Stolen Momentsmp3



Albert Ayler – Spiritsmp3


Friday, October 21, 2005

Jandek at St Giles in the Fields... Tuesday Oct 18 2005...

Here we go – again... up to London this time to see Jandek at St Giles in the Fields off Denmark Street. The Poet's Church, apparently... A smooth journey down and booked in to a new hotel in Bayswater that I found on the net – seemed ok, although a bit rough round the edges and no internet connection! Apparently they had just taken over the place and were still having teething problems. But the guy I spoke to on the desk seemed cheerful enough and the room was fine - as good as and cheaper than the one I had in the Regent Palace the other week. Went out to get some food and quickly found the Black Lion where I had a late lunch and was planning on doing a gallery or something – but suddenly felt wrecked so went back to the hotel and had a kip. Still feeling the after-effects of my foray to the Variety Club in Basford, Notts, a couple of days before – a wild and wooly afternoon about which I will write at a later date when I can decipher the notes on bar mats and scribbled at speed in my notebook.

To the gig – walked off down Bayswater road a way but realised that it would take a fair stretch of the legs and decided not to risk fatigue more than necessary so tubed it from Lancaster Gate to Tottenham Court Road and wandered down Charing Cross Road to cut off down Denmark Street and look in the guitar shops as I was early until I came to St Giles – and saw a queue already there. It was only 7 pm and the gig wasn't supposed to start until 7.30 pm so I thought I'd get my ticket from the desk (pre-booked) and slope off for a drink. But once I got inside I hung about instead – realising that there was only one toilet and drinks before gigs could mean being stuck in the long queue which was there most of the evening. Bog very clean - on a par with the Stone Club in New York for solitary splendour. Went and grabbed a seat in a pew and sat looking round the renovated church interior as some ambient-ish laptop stuff played – pleasant enough, going into at one point what sounded like a didgeridoo looped through a distortion effects unit.

More or less on time the first act came on - unannounced– Angharad Davies and Rodhri Davies – violin and harp. A stark unadorned sound – long violin notes and at times very quiet textural detail against clangs and bangs and more abrasive timbres from the harp being played with various implements at times (I couldn't see what he was using so had to try to figure it from the sounds produced – an interesting experience). The acoustic of the church lent itself very well to this austere improvisation. Of course, these two are stalwarts of the scene – but I had never seen them live before and enjoyed their music. There is a steely, Kierkagaardian almost, core, (cor!) to their performance – especially given no compere or introduction or a word spoken until they silently acknowledged the applause and left the stage.

I read in the Wire last issue interview with Mark Wastell et al that the Davies duo had got fed up with playing in churches and were now doing gigs at home which was interesting and prompted the thought: what would this sound like in a more intimate space, what changes to the acoustics and the mind-set would be provoked? The contrast between high-ceilinged spacious resonance and the emotional vibe of being in a church, no matter what spiritual background and beliefs one has -if any- to the closeness of friends and more enclosed acoustic/spiritual space - unless you live in a barn or converted church I suppose? Context provokes it's own challenges...

Then came Jandek... I wasn't really sure what to expect as my only acquaintance with his music is a couple of tracks from the seventies I half-listened to a few weeks ago and did not really register, to be honest, as I was busy doing something requiring my full attention. He came on – unannounced and spoke not a word during his performance. Tallish, thin man wearing a black hat tilted slightly so that from where I was sitting it was difficult to see his face. Or his playing technique – so I had to rely on my ears.

Jandek, on this initial encounter, seems to come off the blues... and maybe that rolling Lightning Hopkins fluid free blues not marked off by 12 bar choruses and chord changes are where the performer decides to put them in emotional/contextual response rather than formal obeisance to conventions. (I always loved the Lighning Hopkins remark – or razor-like put-down, rather, to a young Billy Gibbons – so the story goes - who queried his knowledge of chord changes to a friend, unaware of Hopkins standing behind him: 'Lightnin' change when Lighnin' want to.') The structure comes from within – form is never more than an extention of content, boys and girls, as Creeley put it. (And I see a lot of blues players as precursors of that mid-century move into 'open field' composition that is usually seen in a more academic guise, no matter the 'rebellious' credentials of those involved: beats, Black Mountaineers, painters, modern jazz musicians and contemporary composers et al). For someone to play off the blues heritage – and them white – presents many problems – aesthetic, technical... over-reverence and imitation or to boldly attempt to go through into the feeling and core of the music – or what you perceive that can be for someone born outside the African-American cultural experience, no matter what sympathetic overtones ring in your head and body.

Jandek is dark, alright. His free-falling songs also remind me of the meander, the snatched-out-the-air quality of John Lee Hooker and Lightning Hopkins laced with the more tragic of Bukka White's stark laments (albeit that he is apparently reading the lyrics from a music stand in front of him). In performance, the accumulation of material is the point, rather than individual songs as they all adhere pretty much to a similar strategy. Sharp, angular acoustic guitar accenting the bass E and A to ground the music (so that he is not, technically 'atonal' as one writer has said - there is, most of the time, the standard tonal centres of acoustic blues when played in conventional tuning, the bottom two strings used as bass anchor. Or out of tune, as has also been alleged – his guitar was in tuned-in accurately standard concert EADGBE). Over that – he is playing a very vertical sound, crushed, minor seconds and semitone-displaced chords resonating off open strings, clusters of notes that unsettle the implications of the bass, much more complex chords than would be encountered in the old country blues but inhabiting the same timbral area of the acoustic/steel National guitars of the masters. It's a clever take on updating the tradition and the raw, biting, acoustic sound of the guitar complements and underscores the weirdness of the vocals... This is the area, I guess, where Jandek either takes you with him or not... He does not sing in any conventional sense his songs that equally do not adhere to conventional structures but – what? - keens almost, sliding across the notes in a high lonesome psychotic melisma as he tells of strange stories of heartbreak, depression and loss, mysteriously hinted at through the opacity of the words. This is one disturbed man – Edvard Munch gets the Texas Blues maybe...

You could also argue the point about how much of this was performance and how much genuine psychic/emotional disturbance. Depression recounted at leisure and distance - or the immediacy of despair re-entered in catharthis. (For a couple of interesting articles that serves as a good intro to this and other info about Jandek go here and
I realised about half and hour in why I had felt some nagging incongruity in his appearance – it was the fact that he kept his hat on in church. Such are the post-modern times we live in, but from an American it seemed an odd thing, in some way. Given the darkness of the emotional area being inscribed, maybe the wearing of the black hat was an interesting signifier – there was little transcendence or spiritual relief inside this music. You felt that the Poet's Church would offer no consolation in this life or any other to this doomed gunslinger who always seems in his songs to be in the position that Leonard Cohen describes in 'Hallelujah': 'Now maybe there's a god above/but all I ever learned from love/is how to shoot at someone who outdrew you...'

Performance or catharsis - he took me with him... I was fascinated by his guitar playing, as it touched on technical and emotional areas that I've gone into myself and with my collaborator Murray. I suddenly realised at one point what else he reminded me of and it was during a section where he was doing his dissonant upstroke/downstroke in a manner that flashed up Sonic Youth – and a song that Murray and I recorded where some of the inspiration on guitar was coming from that area. And that's a beat out of the Velvet Underground if truth be told – think 'I'm Waiting for my Man' to get the 8/8 rhythm (although they were little touched by the blues). Along with a fast strummed chorded section that reminded me of Derek Bailey briefly – the same verticality and occasional pinging overtones but more evenly rhythmically stressed.

So you could say – it was all one song – but that is a criticism you could aim at John Lee Hooker or Lighning Hopkins. Or Bukka White. In that narrowness of furrow one can dig deep and deeper. So. You either dig it or you don't. I dug... So did the packed church who applauded him vigorously(to the heavens...?)

The last act rocked the evening out in a blast of youthfully energetic free jazz hoo hah... The Rauhan Orkestri (here's an album review) come out of the Finnish free jazz scene and are a young quartet of drums bass, two horns doubling up on various what we used to call 'small instruments.' They started at full tilt – the alto player running up and down the church blatting out sqwarks and yelps in the now time-honoured fashion with his colleague responding on soprano. Yet there was a freshness and vitality to their playing – and a sense of fun which had not been much in evidence throughout the rest of the evening. They were a refreshing change of emotional gears and capped the night perfectly – even though half the audience had gone after Jandek loped off to the crossroads or wherever. Maybe a compere would have helped – just a thought, but not everyone was aware that there was more music on as the main act doesn't usually fetch up in the middle of the show. That aside, actually an inspired piece of programming, the way it fell out... The Rauhan group displayed a wide range of texture and sonorities – from the alto/soprano double sax hit running round the church as if testing the acoustic and testifying to whatever spirit moved them and putting the audience inside the music literally at times to quieter passages that gave their set a dynamic range from full throttle wahoo to almost inaudible delicacy. My only problem was that from my pew the bass sound seemed muddy and undifferentiated, the drums not quite sharp enough. A shame as the acoustics for the other two acts had been pin-point sharp. Problem solved by noticing that the queue for the sacred loo had disappeared so I went for a piss and came back to stand very near to the action and was able to hear them a lot more clearly to the end of their set. To much applause from the remainder of the punters.

Great gig.

And: hats (black or otherwise) in the air for the promoters who provided an inspired show...

The problem: 10.30 pm and no desire for searching out late bars and the hotel had none. So: the cunning of the old fox – over to Sainsbury's on Charing Cross Road for a couple of cans to be secreted in my shoulder bag, then a quick pint in the Leicester Arms at the top of Soho then back to Bayswater to find an internet cafe for a half an hour followed by a stroll around for the flanêurism that was in it and, finally, a slow drink in the hotel room. Slightly bolloxed by the Sainbury's rule that you have to buy a 4 pack at least (unusual logic – maybe only winos and street piss-artists buy Stella by the the can?). So I was weighed down by the bugger but made the Leicester Arms, eventually got a seat and started to write up my first impressions of the gig. Then the heavens burst... I got soaked going down to the tube and thought: fuck it – straight to hotel, no nocturnal explorations of Bayswater/Queensway tonight. A can, an interesting documentary on photographer Robert Capa. And kip...

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Derek and Joe...

Here are two guitar tracks that bring us up to the present day – one from Derek Bailey, in a kind of continuity from the previous Oxley post that he played on, the other from Joe Morris, a more 'jazzy' sounding musician, perhaps, who has echoes of Bailey in his playing but is very much his own man with a unique style. Two fiercely independent musicians who do not compromise... Morris has apparently now taken up acoustic bass – although he's doing some solo guitar recitals the UK round about now (I may go and see him next week in Birmingham – if I do I'll report back...).
The Morris piece I have selected is the opener on his solo acoustic guitar cd 'Singularity' and the Bailey comes from his 'Ballads' album which threw a lot of people, I think – 'Derek playing on tunes!' But there are two distinct approaches to guitar improvisation here. Before this cd, Morris was usually heard playing electric guitar in an effects-free, stripped down style timbre-wise – a similar approach to Bailey in some ways, who has never gone in much for effects. Maybe this is the jazz influence coming through although it is worth noting that Morris is playing nearer to the tradition than Bailey (who nevertheless came out of it as well before launching of to wilder shores...) – many of the older players – Jim Hall, Tal Farlow etc. - kept a pure tone as I suppose they figured that distortion would bend attention away from their improvised lines. The impact of rock and especially Jimi Hendrix changed this – as did jazz-rock and fusion. Yet, possibly the sheer speed and denseness of Morris would not come across so well drenched in electronics – ditto Bailey, who displays a different density – vertical where Morris is more linear. This in in evidence on these recordings – Bailey's 'Body and Soul' is the most 'out' I've ever heard, starting off with melody being chorded almost conventionally - before slowly taking off into his own sound world. Morris similar starts of chordally but then drives off into blinding, single note runs, then mixes the two throughout, but in a more 'conventional' way. I think the difference between the two approaches could be demonstrated if it was possible to transcribe both solos for different intsruments. My guess is that Morris could come out on piano, say, pretty much intact. Bailey - would lose more because of the timbres he uses – especially the ringing harmonics. You would have to use a 'prepared' instrument, maybe, to approximate these. I like them both very much...

Joe Morris interview
and here, updated

Derek Bailey interview -

Joe morris – Lightmp3

Album – Singularity

buy here -

Derek Bailey – Body and Soulmp3

Album – Ballads

buy here -

Monday, October 10, 2005

Tony and Cecil...

These are two radical tracks – one by the Cecil Taylor group in 1966, the other by a sextet led by Tony Oxley in 1970. One is American, the other English/European. Two different visions – yet they cross and coincide as much as they divurge. Many of the musicians on these two pieces were to play with each other – Parker, Bailey, Oxley all played with Cecil Taylor at various later dates, for example. In fact, last year at the London Jazz Festival, Cecil, Oxley and Bill Dixon played on a memorable gig, solo and together. The Oxley track is listed as one of four 'compositions' and the Taylor track has obvious arranged sections – yet both display wild free-blowing improvised extensions of the jazz tradition and the organic grafting on 'European' modern classical influences - atonality/polytonality etc. Modern chamber music? Hardly the lettuce-limp sonorites of Third-Stream...There is still a bite and a grip to these sessions – after 35 – 40 years, no mean achievement. Jimmy Lyons shows a growing maturity in his ability to get inside Taylor's music, Dixon is laid back and lyrical, the two bass line up an interesting rhythmic/tonal remove from the two basses on the earlier Coltrane post I put up. And the drums of Andrew Cyrille display another fascinating take on the rhythm strategies of the 'New Thing' – compare and contrast to Sunny Murray on my earlier Taylor post. Taylor, as usual, stomps all over the music – modernist stride?

'Scintilla' opens with a slow, poignant, fragmented duet by trombone and guitar until the other instruments edge their way in -the line here is much more fragmented – not that Taylor is any less dissonant/atonal but there are two distinct rhythmic scenarios going on here- as the Oxley track builds through written and improvised sections it starts to take off – interestingly, the yips and yelps of Wheeler sound in parts more radical than Bill Dixon's more understated playing. As Parker plays and the other two horns drop out they come as near to 'jazz' as they are going to – a longer rhythmic line playing behind – led by Parker as the other instruments come back in to the growing storm. Until they end on quiet and slow horns and bass long notes

Cyrille seems to be playing a long line all the way through – even as fragments and clusters are sounded his playing holds them all into a higher solution of rhythm. Oxley seems to scuttle across rhythms more – marking a pointillist method not so far from some of the Art Ensemble of Chicago's more 'European' pieces maybe and mirroring the other instruments rather than framing them... From the middle sixties onwards, European jazz was staking its claims via the avant – garde to its own original methodologies and trying to escape the African-American shadow in varying degrees. Some of these solutions are displayed on Oxley's track. Also interesting to note is that Bailey and Parker had already forged their unique styles – Parker more obviously out of Jazz (and Coltrane) than Bailey who seems to have sprung freshly born from the head of Anton Webern at his most oblique...

The musicians on the Oxley piece are: Tony Oxley – drums/Derek Bailey – guitar/Evan Parker – saxes/Kenny Wheeler – trumpet/Jeff Clyne – bass/Paul Rutherford – Trombone.

The musicians on the Cecil Taylor piece are – Cecil Taylor – piano/Bill Dixon – trumpet/Jimmy Lyons – Alto sax/Alan Silva, Henry Grimes – bass/Andrew Cyrille – drums.

Download -

scintilla mp3
8.31 mb


conquistador mp3 16.37mb


Friday, October 07, 2005


Here are two tracks from Ornette Coleman's seminal quartet, taken from the album 'Change of the Century,' recorded in October 1959 in Hollywood. At this distance, it is hard to see why there was so much controversy over this music - it's hard-swinging, bluesy, fast and fiery. Yet – there is a tangible freedom on offer – there is a lot of space because of the lack of piano that would rein in the directional possibilities to a certain extent by the choice of chords played underneath. Charlie Haden's bass frees up the harmonic area for the soloists – one can see a link to Gerry Mulligan's piano-less quartets that also started out on the West Coast in the early fifties. Yet in Mulligan's music, the harmony is always implicit, the chorus structures of the tunes in place as structuring bulwarks. Here, the improvisational area has been opened up considerably, with the structural form emerging from the improvisor's content. Olson again: 'FORM IS NEVER MORE THAN AN EXTENSION OF CONTENT.'

And it still sounds fresh...


rambling mp3

free mp3

Buy the album

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Olé - one of my favourite things...

John Coltrane recorded 'Olé Coltrane' in May 1961 with an expanded quartet. 'My Favourite Things'was already in the bag at this stage, and Olé represents a logical move onwards from this tune and the previous modal experiments of the Miles Davis band on 'Kind of Blue', but there seems to be a darker edge here, some shade where the original 'My Favourite Things' had a lighter, bouncier ambiance. The mp3 I've put up below, the title track 'Olé ', has Eric Dolphy on board – and Freddie Hubbard, an adventurous player who was to participate both in Ornette Coleman's 'Free Jazz' sessions and Coltrane's massive 'Ascension.' He acts as a bridge, maybe, Dolphy and Coltrane going further out already in their solos, playing off different by now underpinnings. Hubbard, somehow: 'thus far and no farther...'
Coltrane, of course, had a formidable technique and one can forget sometimes that he had been fine-honing his art for many, many years before he burst out into the sonic wildness of the sixties. In fact, his adoption of younger firebrand musicians in the avant garde of the sixties helped to bring them work and exposure and to validate the 'new thing's' questing for new sound worlds – after all, his track record was already there, his mastery of his instrument readily apparent from his recordings with Miles and Monk, for example, and all the other sessions he appeared on.
Olé is a bouncing 6/8 with the 'Spanish tinge' to the fore... a bit cod-Hispanic maybe, but propelled along on the thrumming two bass hit of Art Davis and Reggie Workman and the dark, pounding vamp of McCoy Tyner backed up by Elvin Jones's ripplingly sturdy drums. Dolphy on flute, keeping pretty much inside the modal contours here, along with Hubbard. Then Coltrane takes it out on squalling, wailing soprano. This is J.C. on the edge of his later stardom - and controversy - in an orthodox expansion of his quartet. And 18 minutes of essential music...

Olé - mp3


the album