Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The DownTown Channel (Coup de Grace)

A sampled discography from the Loft-era - Pt. 3: Downtown New York
Words: Gian Paolo Galasi

The Knitting Factory, founded in 1979
This is the third and final part of my recognition on both the Loft and Downtown NY scenes. In order to make a complete recognition of those years, a further chapter would be inclusive of English post-punk and experimental music, since Neneh Cherry, Don's daugther, played with the all-female punk-reggae-dub band The Slits - Malcolm McLaren ex-protegées and defectors - and was close friend of their leader Ari Up; since Pop Group fused wave, psychedelia, free jazz and avant-garde on their incendiary records Y and For How Much Longer do We Tolerate Mass Murders, just before their singer Mark Stewart founded the Wild Bunch collective (Massive Attack's and Tricky's narcolectic and paranoid trip-hop would be the last resorts to come out of the Bristol scene) and put out on his On-U sound label Sun Ra's Nuclear War as a single; since ex-Magazine bassist Barry Adamson co-opted young saxophonist Matana Roberts (now a full complete composer and leader in her owh right, as her last Coin Coin album on Canadian label Constellation shows us) in his records as a leader; and, finally, since in England (at the same time that in Italy and other European countries) the so-called 'industrial' scene started to develop in a manner completely unrelated to what Americans call with that name: not a blend of heavy metal, techno and psychedelia, but a deeply, groovy, obscure and wildly noisy experimental and transversal scene that had his standart-bearer with Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, Einsturzende Neubauten and Maurizio Bianchi. Being Z'ev one of the most important musicians involved in John Zorn's Arcana book cited in the first article of that series, it is impossible to put it apart, but an excellent analysis is still easily available through Simon Reynolds Rip it up and start again: Post Punk 1979-1984, published in 2005 and still largely available. Industrial music is deep rooted in the figurative art world, Fluxus' companion in a certain way, and, more in general, related to all the avant-garde movements started by Dada, Cobra, Lettrism in Eastern Europe at the beginning of the 20th century. It' aint difficult to think about this movement in close relationship with some of the most important contemporary music composers like Pauline Oliveros, La Monte Young, and more in general with all those who were dealing with pure sound, more than with notes, timbres, structures. For an overview of the American Downtown scene, look at Peter Cherches guide between the web links at the bottom of this page.

Arthur Russell - Another Thought (Point Music, 1994)

Loft-era doesn't mean only music related to jazz, nor only improvisation. Arthur Russell was a wonderful cellist, well known for his appereances with Allen Ginsberg reading his poems, and for being a highly multi-faceted composer. Minimalism, disco-music, power-pop, new wave, were the many styles he coped with during his career, with a constant attempt to refine his material. Not as an obsessive perfectionist though, but as a restless gold-digger. Between his many collaborators there were John Hammond, Philip Glass, David Van Tieghem, Peter Zummo, David Byrne, Henry Flynt, Julius Eastman, Rhys Chatham and Gavin Bryars. "Another Thought" is a record made only of cello and voice, recorded in a NY Studio that belonged to genius of Jamaican dub Lee 'Scratch' Perry, and the result is a masterpiece of archetypical, ghostly melancholy, far from both 'mutant-disco' Russel was involved since his singles released as Dinosaur L, and his 'post-minimalist' compositions collected on Audika Records compilation First Thought Best Thought in 2006.

Eugene Chadbourne & John Zorn - Sonora 1977-1981 (Materiali Sonori, 1998)

A particularly intriguing record featuring a couple of 'gurus' of the Downtown NY music scene, accompanied by other remarkable artists as keyboardist/composer Wayne Horvitz, guitarist Fred Frith, violinist Polly Bradfield, cellist Tom Cora, trumpeter Toshinori Kondo, percussionist Andrea Centazzo, pianist and violinist La Donna Smith, keyboardist David Boyle. This collection was selected by Chadbourne himself, and coupled by Materiali Sonori with a beautiful bilingual book.  Viaduct is a piece dedicated to Groucho Marx, recorded in 1977 at Davis, California's KDVS Radio on a Butoba-like recorder; A Welcome West (WKCR, 1978) is performed by the trio 300 Stuatues (Zorn on alto, Chadbourne on guitar and banjo, and Polly Bradfield on cello), and is the unedited version of Zorn's "School" Lp b-side; the composition is based on Greyound bus timetables between New York and Arizona. The Double AA is a piece by Twins (with Zorn, Chadbourne, guitaris Henry Kaiser, and saxophonist Bruce Ackley from the Rova Saxophone Quartet) taken at a club called Pangaea during the same years; The English Channel, originally written for orchestra and improvisers in 1979, is performed with students of the Creative Music Studio with Chadbourne's guitars and dobros overlapped in 1987; W VA SPEC (Chadbourne, Zorn, Tom Cora on cello, Mark Kramer on organ and tapes, David Licht on percussion) was recorded in Ohio in 1981 with additional recordings coming from Chadbourne's private collection. The fist two compositions are dominated by what Zorn might call an 'aural' quality of visuals, or viceversa, and are a perfect document of the first period of the Downtown era. The other three pieces show us the beginning of the sped-up, kinetic, post-modern era that will dominate the game-pieces, the cinematic scores and the hardcore / jazz experiences that will be great part of John Zorn's career as a composer. This record is a well-accomplished introduction to what most effervescent NY creative music was since the change of the decade.

Kip Hanrahan - Coup De Tête (Nagel Heyer Records, 1982)

Born in 1954 in Bronx's Puertorican neighbourhood, Kip Hanrahan is a composer, arranger, conductor, impresario, and percussionist. Coming from an Irish family, Hanrahan's work with music, is very relate to the one of a movie director. The producer of Astor Piazzolla during Piazzolla's last decade, as well as Jerry Gonzales and other figures coming out of the Latin music scene, Kip Hanrahan devoted many side-projects collaborating with poet Ishmael Reed under the name of The Conjure Ensemble, while his major works are an assembly of players and materials from the modern/avant-garde/free jazz cauldron, mix with latin rhythms and exotica spices:  from Don Pullen to Steve Swallow, from Milton Cardona and Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez to Jack Bruce. Coup De Tête is a collection spanning through Hanrahan productions from 1979 to 1981, and it's a blending of Cuban Santeria-based percussions, free jazz, funk and intimate, uncomfortable lyrics. Both Carla Bley and Michael Mantler, at the time involved with Hanrahan in the New Music Distribution Service project are featured in this debut record, one of the most representative of the NY melting pot of the time. Chico Freeman, Dave Liebman, Teo Macero, Michael Mantler, Jamaaladeen Tacuma and Arto Lidsay are also giving their contribution in various tracks.

No New York (Antilles Records, 1978)

"No New York", a record produced by Brian Eno, was at the time the manifesto for an entire generation of young 'non-musicians' that wanted to go beyond the punk hangover coming out of the CBGB's bazaar avoding stereotypes - the usual AABA song format -, showing a confrontational - and sometimes masochistic - attitude on stage, displaying guitar single-line more related to early La Monte Young / Dream Syndicate drone-minimalism than to the Ramones one-two-three-four guitar riffs, but also attempting to put early free jazz enthropy and avant-garde atonality together often in the same, usually short, song. James Chance and the Contortions spin-dried James Brown's growls with Albert Ayler's squirls, while Lydia Lunch with Teenage Jesus and The Jerks put herself forward as the morbid Marquis DeSade's daughter; but for sure Mars and DNA were the most interesting stuff to be put on record in those years, along with Suicide first record, and Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham mimi/maximalist guitar symphonies: their music is beyond every known musical shape, vital and conscious of their attempt to take over the boundaries between popular and contemporary music. They were lead by their own instinct but at the same time they were trying to avoid mere chaos. It's not by chance that DNA guitarist Arto Lindsay and drummer Ikue Mori became two of the more active and versatile musicians of the yet to come New York Downtown, collaborating during the years with the likes of Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso, contemporary pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, avant drummer Susie Ibarra. In order to find out a related scene, we have to go back in time and listen to the Brazilian Tropicàlia movement of the years between 1965 and 1970: both were the most important and genuine attempt to merge with a naïve but truly inspired attitude high and low culture, giving their proper contribution to a blurring of the boundaries of both.

The New York City Artist Collective Plays Butch Morris (NYCAC, 1984)

Lawrence D. "Butch" Morris was at his beginnings a disciple of David Murray. His first record is 1976's Frank Lowe "The Other Side", in which he plays cornet. His first compositions appears in Murray's "Penthouse Jazz" and "Holy Siege on the Intrigue". At his beginning a 'be-bop deconstructionist', since Billy Bang's "Outline Number 12" in 1982, Morris concept of 'conduction' starts to develop, fully flourishing in this record issued a couple of years after. "His Conduction 'system' incorporates the standard moves of the conductor, but fuses them with gestures and signs that instruct the musicians. As Morris says, 'I sculpt sound.'", as David Henderson puts it on an interview issued in Bomb Magazine. One of the most sophisticated, bright and complete composers of his generation, Lawrence D. 'Butch' Morris is also very aware of his time, and define music often in a way that can be considered part of the cultural world he comes from: "In an age when the term 'interactive' has come to mean between human and machine' - as he states - , it seem reasonable to hope that an acoustic medium of collective interpersonal intelligence could achieve a greater degree of cross-cultural dialogue and trans-social communication than it has to date"

A Loft-Era related bibliography and discography

On print:
Valerie Wilmer,  As Serious as Your Life: John Coltrane and Beyond, London: Serpent's Tail, 1977
Gary Giddins, Riding on a Blue Note: Jazz and American Pop", New York, Oxford University Press, 1981
John Gray, Fire Music: a Bibliography of the New Jazz, 1959-1990, New York: Greenwood Press, 1991
Carla Chiti - Walter Rovere Sonora. Itinerari Oltre il Suono, Italy: Materiali Sonori Italia, 1998
John Zorn, Arcana: Musicians on Music, New York: Granary Books, 2000
Symon Reynolds, Rip it up and start again: Post-punk 1978 - 1984, Faber and Faber, 2005
Tim Lawrence, Hold On to Your Dreams: Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene, 1973-92, Duke University Press, 2009
Gilles Peterson and Stuart Baker, Freedom, Rhythm & Sound: Revolutionary Jazz Original Cover Art 1965-83, Soul Jazz Records, 2009

On Web:
Sam Rivers, Warlord of the Lofts, by W. A. Brower, in "DownBeat", November 16, 1978
New York's Lofty Intentions on JazzTime by Gary Giddins
Arista/Freedom Records Listing compiled by Brian W. Burgess
India Navigation Records Listing compiled by Michael Fitzgerald and François Ziegler
Passin' Thru Records official site
Black Saint / Soul Note on Cam Jazz

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