Sunday, August 7, 2022

Two Pianos, a Harpsichord and a Few Magical Instruments More

One of my favourite activities since when I was young is to go through book and record shops, looking for some hidden gems. You can find records at half price sometimes, or used items, that have nothing to envy to the last releases. Since the one we’re living is a particular time, more devoted to reissues than to new material – with some notable exceptions – I’d love to spend some time talking about some interesting stuff I ran into a couple of weeks ago.

In this small record shop I found out, in effect, for half their price these three CDS of free jazz and contemporary music. Two are double albums. As I discovered at home, listening to them, they were worth the price and the time I spent listening to them. The first album is a piano trio by an old acquaintance of this blog: pianist Matthew Shipp, in a collaboration with long time collaborator bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Norman Taylor Baker. The CD is titled Piano Song and it was released by Shipp’s label Thirsty Ear in 2017. It is the most recent release of the three I’ll write about in this post.

A little disappointed by one of the last outputs by Shipp in a quartet comprising Paul Dunmall, Gereald Cleaver and Joe Morris (here is the review) because of its predictability, I find this other trio album, instead, exquisite, intense, fresh and innovative. Matthew Shipp is, above all, a spiritual musician. The world became aware of him thanks to his work with the great saxophonist David S. Ware, devoted to free jazz and to Ganesh, and thanks to his big open chords and great melodic approach to piano, along with bassist William Parker and many drummers – the one I loved the most was Susie Ibarra – he renowned the great tradition of energy playing, in line with the historical quartet of John Coltrane for the Impulse! label.

The 12 original compositions in this album are great examples of how varied a refinished composer can be musically. There are pieces whispered like a caress full of compassion and others that feature an assertive execution. The two partners are interacting with Shipp not only in order to provide the right accompaniment, but in some compositions, reminiscent of the use of electronics and space in other Shipp’s outputs via his label, they gain the foreground with sonic gestures that leave the imagination free to be hit. The above mentioned use of space as a compositional tool makes me think of Shipp as a contemporary composer, accustomed to modern music – as he told me in an old interview in which he cited Varèse and Baroque music along with Jazz as a first influence to him.

That’s why the second, double album in this multiple review article is so important. It is an album by another great pianist – one of the greatest in jazz history to tell you the truth: ‘Muhal’ Richard Abrams, founder of the Association for the Advancement of the Creative Musicians I mentioned in a series of articles about the Art Ensemble of Chicago few years ago. Abrams is a versatile musician: his many records spans through Contemporary Music and Jazz, and if Sightsong, a beautiful album duo with bassist Malachi Favors from the AEoC was a melodic and melancholic output, this other release, titled Sound Dance and issued by PI Recordings in 2011 is dominated by an impressionistic, pointillistic and vibrating style.

The first disc of the set is a duo with saxophonist Fred Anderson, the second features instead George E. Lewis at both trombone and electronics. If during the concert with Anderson it is more clear who is leading and who is accompanying, the second set is the most intriguing for how both the trombone and the electronics are mixing with the piano notes. The drive becomes less evident, almost hidden, and this sensation of uncertainty comes to the listener without a decisive solution, even if the music is capturing the attention with his beauty and peculiarities. After all what we’re listening to is a dialogue, and, as it happens when you speak to another person, sometimes your words are driven more by the person you’re interacting to than by your ideas and concepts. Call it interaction, or relationship: but it’s the same with music and it’s interesting to hear such a thing happening during a performance.

The most intriguing part of the third album is the second disk, because it features compositions for harpsichord, a far away relative of the piano, and an instrument used mostly in Baroque music but not that much appreciated by Contemporary composers. Xenakis here, as it happens with him, leads the instrument at his limits, and uses the harpsichord mostly as a percussive instrument. It becomes interesting to listen to the composition Komboi, 18 minutes of harpsichord and percussions, because the feeling of an exchange, with the percussive harpsichord and the melodic percussions is something familiar to the listeners of avant garde jazz: you’ll remember for sure that duets between Cecil Taylor and Max Roach.

The first disk, instead, features three compositions for large ensemble – one, Jalons, directed by Pierre Boulez driving his Ensemble Intercontemporain, plus Keren, for trombone, and Nomos Alpha for cello. These are all compositions by the late Xenakis, who let apart his stochastic approach to music – you can read my monography about the composer in this blog – but who was always curious about pushing the boundaries of the instruments: so in the compositions for ensemble, as an example, you’ll not find the usual glissandi but notes mostly on the higher pitches.

I’ve written three reviews of old music – the two Xenakis CDs were released by Warner Classics in 2007 – because I wanted to recap a little the meaning and the practice of a music that nowadays is losing part of its how-to. As I wrote in the last multiple review, when I look around myself I mostly feel the struggling and the difficulties of a niche to be issued and to be heard by a larger audience, and the difficulties from the younger musicians to build a vision from an inner to an outer world. But since the world of rock and other contaminations has mostly completely gone, improvised music and the avant garde is still the most important tool to critique our society and imagine something better.

From September, other releases are waiting for us: from the new edition of Coltrane’s Blue Train with a disk of never heard before material, to a couple of new releases by the Japanese enfant terrible Keiji Haino, one with SUMAC. I hope to hear all of this stuff and more, but for the moment I wanna go back to the records I bought during these last years and share with you some hidden gems that maybe you have lost through the years. After all, music is a matter of love, and not a matter of being fashionable. 

 


 

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Peter Brotzmann, Cecil Taylor, Roscoe Mitchell: The Last Masterpieces?

A couple of years have passed since I grabbed my copies of three records I wanna review even if some other years are passed after their release. The point is that these albums have marked the passing of time and maybe they have put the word ‘End’ to the possible evolution of a musical genre like jazz. A jazz contaminated with both contemporary music and tradition, but it’s not by chance that this backlash comes from three aged musicians – one, Taylor, died four years ago.

In fact, I can’t hear novelties in the world of free and contemporary jazz, even if there IS interesting stuff – search in this blog for any – from younger musicians, but they are quite often incomplete. Some are missing the developing of a personal language, some are missing the developing of a structure that can sustain their personal language, some lack vision. So, since these three discs have collected enthousiastic reviews, I wonder if by chance they are the last word on a world of sound, on a vision, on a musical practice.

Let’s start with Cecil Taylor’s At Angelica 2000 Bologna. I’ve written extensively about Taylor’s music through this post so I ain’t gonna repeat myself. Taylor was the most important pianist to mix contemporary music and jazz music, and still is nowadays. Every contemporary pianist, from Andrew Hill to Matthew Shipp, owes him something, even indirectly. Angelica, instead, is an important and renowned festival that takes place in Italy since 1990 and that hosts the most interesting music in the fields of contemporary jazz, contemporary music, experimental music.

I remember when I had the opportunity to listen to the precious music by Pauline Oliveros, Roscoe Mitchell, John Tilbury and Wadada Leo Smith in 2011 on May 8, on various combinations. Angelica not only gives us the opportunity to hear such music, but also releases on CD and vinyl some of the most intriguing performances. In 2020, the I Dischi di Angelica label released an intriguing double album by Cecil Taylor. The first disk features the solo performance held at Angelica 2000 by the maestro, while the second features a one hour long interview with Taylor.

The music in this album is Cecil Taylor at his best. Not only you can hear the melodic and the strumming phrases he is well known for, but also the structure of the music – do you remember when Taylor talks about Calatrava bridges? – is quite audible and comprehensible. Obviously one pays the price for Taylor fire, for his poetry, for his mastery in mixing hints of stride piano and contemporary structures, but this is in my opinion, after hearing many of his records and having seeing him also live with his Feel Trio (with Tony Oxley on drums and William Parker on bass), his best performance ever, his spiritual and musical will.

To accomplish this mission there’s also a beautiful libretto with the text of the interview, for those of you who don’t understand english as native language and can have difficulties in listening to an american man talking. The second album for this collective review is another solo, Peter Brotzmann’s I Surrender Dear. Apparently less iconoclastic, noisey and harsh than his usual outputs, this solo album released by Troast Records in 2019 with a beautiful cover by Brotmann himself with crayon on cardboard is like an intimate confession.

I still remember a concert I attended in Oslo in 2011 where he played with pianist Masaiko Satoh but leaving us with a beautiful coda of solo tenor with all our tears spread along the road of our listening experience. This album is different because in a way we can hear, as someone wrote in another review, Brotzmann in an intimate situation, playing standards of jazz but giving them new shape and blood, on the other hand this operation will push us to ask ourselves what is an intimate act – this is, in fact, the Fluxus side of Brotzmann.

In fact we all are accustomed to listen to solo standards as something personal – paradoxically: as far as it seems, in jazz you are yourself the most when you play other people’s music, and the oldest as possible: it is a true topic or it is a convention? – and this is what Brotmann tries to do, but transcending the pieces of music in a personal way, even if renouncing to his usual confrontational approach. Surprising as it can be, a similar attitude will leave the listener with many questions more than with the pleasure of a ‘beautiful’ sonic experience. And this is Brotzmann at his best, conceptually and practically.

And now for the third album, another double: Roscoe Mitchell’s Bells For The South Side, released by ECM in 2017. The oldest of this trio of albums, is also possibly the most fascinating. I still remember when I was reading in my own language the books by philosopher Davide Sparti, who was applying Foucault theories to jazz music. According to him, jazz music is the music of musicians who know where they start but don’t know where they will arrive to, and who they will be at the end of the performance.

But in listening to this trio performances of compositions by Mitchell, who sometimes acts as a musicians and sometimes lead the trios, you don’t hear such trasmutation, but something new: like a Zen quality of being, immutable and eternal, like the definitive expression of a pure soul. Described by some critics as the best compositions of music after Beethoven’s last quartets – I ain’t joking, the review is available through the internet although written in Italian – Mitchell’s pieces of music represented here were mysterious to me at a first listening, but they have this quality of reproducing sound cells and expressions in a way that really remind me the Zen meditation process.

This way, Mitchell pushes jazz faraway over its boundaries. From a research for a new identity to the affirmation of pure being. Pianos, trumpets, reeds, electric guitars, percussions, drums, noise, all is worth to create a realm of sound that give the listener the sensation of being absorbed in something that is out of time or fully in time, for what is worth. We will not hear easily music of such beauty as the one contained in these three records. So I really believe they are a milestone in contemporary jazz and it’s time for youngest musicians to get over it but starting from it. Unluckily it’s not time for enthousiasm in the realm of music, I can hear more struggle to tell the truth ... 

 


 

Friday, August 5, 2022

Charles Mingus on Paper

I have to confess it: I have a bad memory for books and movies. With the passing of the years, I tend to forgot about everything I read or everything I see. When I see again a film, or a read again a book, my memories tend to be dissimilar from what I reread or I resee. Sometimes I remember more something that occurred in that period of time: as an example, I can remember the feelings in reading the final lines of Saramago’s Blindness or the fact that when I started reading Tropic of Cancer I wanted to regain possess over my instincts, that my catholic education repressed for so many years.

This is also the case with Beneath the Underdog, the beautiful and meaningful autobiography by bassist and composer Charles Mingus, one of my all time favorites musicians. Mingus is luckily so recognized today that his birthday, April 22, has been taken as the International Day of Jazz. His autobiography starts with a confession by Mingus himself to his psychiatrist (the famous lines “In other words I am three” ... ) and, this is what I remember, it ends with Mingus taken into the mental hospital who hosted him for some weeks after a little crisis during which the bassist was completely unable to sleep.

What I was missing is the fact that during that period Mingus was at risk of being lobotomized, and that he was saved by his friend the jazz critic Nat Henthoff. I was made aware of this circumstance by a beautiful graphic novel titled simply Mingus issued in my country and in my language, Italian, by Coconino Press/Fandango last year, a novel created by Squaz with texts written by the music journalist Flavio Massarutto. A novel I have bought today and read during the train trip to home. The graphic novel is terrific. You’ll find the dance for The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, the recording session for the song Original Faubus Fables for the album Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus, the period passed at the mental hospital and other episodes of his life, interspersed with interpretations of Mingus’ covers for some of his most famous albums.

As an example you’ll find the cover of Pithecantropus Erectus followed by a story of primates discovering how to extoll life from their counterparts (very Kubrickian), using tools like spears and stones, then you’ll find the photo for Blues and Roots with Mingus transfigured in a thorns-crowned Christ. But you’ll find also Mingus threatening Shafi Hadi after he composed the score for John Cassavetes’ Shadows. So you have basically all the three Minguses: the one full of music, the one who was at risk of harming himself, the one who endangered to harm others. This is, to tell the truth, the Mingus I like the less. When I think of an interview with one of his musicians in the interesting book Mingus Speaks, written by music journalist John F. Goodman, where Mingus is reported to have almost broke the hand of a pianist and punch on the mouth a saxophonist because they weren’t playing his music as it was intended, I would love to pass the buck. But it’s impossible, because I do love Mingus’ music.

The reason I love jazz is because it’s more than music to me. Coltrane, as an example, made me understand that creating (music) is something related to (universal) love, and so an artist has to pursue the goal not only to improve as a creator, but also as a human being. I talked many times about this issue with friends of mine who are artists (actors, musicians, etc.) and I had different answers to the same questions. One told me once that it was so compelling to him to improve as a musician he didn’t had the time to become also a better person, on the other hand another friend, an actress, told me that she was afraid by people who wouldn’t become better as persons as they age as artists.

My dream, so, was to unify the uman being. Studying acting and a little bit of painting myself, I have this urge to become one, not separating the artist from the man I am. On one hand, so, you have Coltrane who was an example for everyone (there’s also a church devoted to him!), on the other you have Mingus. But who knows, maybe Mingus would have been a worst person without the art he was creating. After all, who am I to judge? One of the problems you can enucleate in reading books such as the three this post is dedicated to, is how Mingus was trying to play with his so-called madness, having this documents he talk about in the interview book where it was written he was unable to understand and want.

Thanks to these documents, he was able to trick some clubs he initially signed an exclusive contract with. So in a way he started profiting about his mental condition and instability. I think this is an enormous confusion for everyone, because it helps you overcome your responsibilities since of your defaillances. Add some episodes from his life like the psychiatrist who wanted to practice electro-shock on him, because the doctor took him for a “paranoid as every black person (is)”, and you obtain a confusion and a certain amount of instability in the life of a man.

As Anthony Braxton wrote many times about Charlie Parker, another jazz cat who had troubles with psychiatry, and to whom Mingus dedicate the composition Parkeriana, people who taste how bitter is the hatred from societal norms, tend quite often to hate themselves. And not only themselves. Mingus was one of the greatest composers, but his social and personal funcioning was compromised by racism and I’d say ‘capitalism’, thinking with this term to the way the music industry was going on during those days in the U.S. After all, one of the reason Mingus hated free jazz and the avantgarde, was the fact that this music was not appealing to the majority of people, leaving the field free for white musicians to consolidate their robbing of rhythm and blues in the form of rock music.

So, if Mingus was ‘paranoid’, he was in the sense William S. Burroughs gave to this word, as ‘a paranoid is a well informed person’. Having treated the issue of Mingus’ violence against some of his friends, musicians, etc., another topic is religion. Mingus’ music is many times the music of a man of faith (Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting, the opening of Blues and Roots, is a good testimony of this). But possibly, as stated by Mingus himself on Mingus Speaks, the man who helped him believe in God (and ESP perceptions) was drummer Dannie Richmond, a long time collaborator of the bassist and one of his best friends. His way of playing with Mingus was in fact almost telepathic. Sometimes the bassist tried to hide his instrument from the view of the friend, but he was always imagining what he would play.

As far as Mingus’ style of music instead, he was to me for free jazz like Thelonious Monk to bebop. Monk wasn’t a bopper, he was a world on his own. But he used to meet boppers because their sense of musical creation was the most free in his own time. Same with Mingus. Far as he was from free  jazz (read the firts interviews contained in Mingus Speaks to better understand the topic) he sometimes used musicians coming from that milieu, like multi-reedist Eric Dolphy, because of their attitude to be precise but instinctive as players. In fact, as Mingus himself tell to Nat Henthoff in a beautiful table of the graphic novel Mingus, the bassist was writing all the scores for his own music but didn’t wanted the musicians to read the sheet: he would have preferred to explain the music verbally, and because jazz musicians are always imaginative, Mingus would have obtained more spontaneous rendition of the music in comparison with the written notes. A risk, but a risk in name of the beauty.

How to conclude this little writing? Obviously with some advices. Here below you’ll find some of Mingus finest records and the three books I have talked about in this piece. It’s up to you to enjoy and deepen the music of a true genius through listening and reading. Enjoy.

 

Books about (?) Mingus

Charles Mingus/Nel King, Beneath The Underdog, New York Vintage Books, 1991

John Goodman, Mingus Speaks, University of California Press, 2013

Flavio Massarutto/Squaz, Mingus, Coconino Press, 2021

 

Albums of Mingus

Pithecantropus Erectus, Atlantic, 1956

Tijuana Moods, RCA, 1957

Mingus Ah Uhm, Columbia, 1959

Blues and Roots, Atlantic, 1960

Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus, Candid, 1960

The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady, Impulse!, 1963

The Great Concert of Charles Mingus, America, 1971

Let My Children Hear Music, Columbia, 1972

 


 

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Master Musicians of Jajouka led by Bachir Attar “Dancing Under The Moon” (Glitterbeat, 2022)

Sufi poetry and music has a noble and long tradition. Sufism is the exstatic and mystic faction of Islam. Few decades ago, Syrian poet Adonis wrote an intriguing essay titled On Sufism and Surrealsim where he compared the twos, assuming that the poems of Rumi and those of Bréton have many things in common. It is not my intention to summarize the essay here, but I want only you to be conscious about the fact that letting our inner self speak is not easy but important, since our rational part is only a small percentage of our abilities.

Having composed a little surrealistic poems myself and for myself, I can deeply understand that, even if our science is nowadays criticizing the idea of a ‘subconscious’ that psychoanalisis posed as angular rock of its exploration of the mind, there’s something hidden into ourselves that social life and rationality try sometimes to hide from our conscience. This hidden part is strictly related to our desires. I remember, as an example, that sensation of hunger and sexual desire I felt before I ended my first painting (horrible as it was, being my first attempt, but this is not the point). Gentle feelinga, not related to the phenomenon of craving as it happens to you when smoking a joint.

Obviously Sufi music is not related to desire, but if you read Rumi poems, being near to God is quite often comparted to be near a beautiful lover, or to being drunk from love. Sufi music, instead, is varied and you can find different kind of music with different kind of intent. Sufi music from Morocco, called Jbala, is a particular style whose goal is to induce into the listener, with performances during many days, a state of trance, in particular related to the loss of the sense of time.

The psychedelic qualities of the music of the Sufi from Joujouka hit for sure the first journalists that from the 1950s on started to testify their existance. At the same time, the following decade, the same qualities attracted both Brian Jones from The Rolling Stones and Beat poets like Paul Bowles, William S. Burrooughs and Bryon Gysin. After being introduced to the world by Jones himself who issued the album Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka (1971) and their following collavoration with Ornette Coleman for the album Dancing In Your Head (1977), the group of musicians started to being recognized all around the world.

In a way anticipating the so called ‘world music’ along with other pioneers discovered in the Flower Power era as Ravi Shankar, the Master Musicians of Joujouka recorded many record and toured throughout the entire world before splitting. In fact, in the early 1990s two groups were nowadays residing in the small village of Joujouka: the ‘original’ Master Musicians of Joujouka and the Master Musicians of Jajouka led by Bachir Attar, the son of the leader of the band during the 1960. Obviously it is harsh to understand what is the original or the best band from the twos.

In fact, both contaminated themselves with the world of contemporary music: the “Joujouka” masters played with Jarvis Cocker and The Orb, while the “Jajouka” were produced at least in one of their albums by Bill Laswell. So in this post we’re gonna describe last album issued, this year, by the second combo, titled “Dancing Under The Moon”. Produced by Jacopo Andreini, drummer of the post punk Italian-French band L’Enfance Rouge (one of my favourite groups ever apart from jazz music), and featuring a booklet full of photos from the sessions and liner notes by the famous journalist Stephen Davis, author of books about Led Zeppelin and Jim Morrison, the album foresee sessions recorded on November 2019.

The band is comprised of seven members playing different instruments as ghaita (a double-reed flute), guinbri (a large plucked half-spike lute), lira (a crossbar lute) , violin, and different types of percussions. There are pieces of music where the percussions are widely spreaded as in Dancing In Your Mind, or where a sweet flute and the lutes introduce a crescendo as in The Bird Prays For Allah, and other where singing is on the foreground as in Yes, Yes, Be Patient My Heart. As I can understand through the titles of the pieces, the themes are the classic sufi themes: the love of God, the chant of love from nature, being ‘intoxicated’ or exalted  by the love of God himself.

Don’t be surprised to read about such music in a blog related to jazz and improvised music. On one hand, these musicians played with a jazz master like Ornette Coleman in one of his most beautiful records, on the other hand this music deserves to be recognized since I truly believe that music can root all human beings into another dimension from where we can go back with new tools and skills in order to improve our world. You don’t need to believe in God for that, it is enough to look at the climate change and the war to get how much we need a new way of thinking. 

 


 

Blue Notes “For Mongezi” (Ogun 2008, reissued in 2022)

Mongezi Feza was one of the best trumpet player to come out of South Africa. Born in Queenstown in 1945, he started studying his instrument at the age of 8. In 1962 he joined pianist Chris McGregor, altoist Dudu Pukwana, bassist Johnny Dyani and drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo in the Blue Notes. Their first concerts, as testified by my latest review, were an hommage to the flamboyancy of Charlie Parker and bebop and the hipness of Thelonious Monk, to whom many themes of their original fist compositions are paying openly hommage.

The Blue Notes played in different clubs and venues, universities comprised, even if with great difficulties and always clandestinely, being a racially mixed band. After 1964 and their appearance at the Antibes Festival, they started to reside first in Europe and then in the UK, where they had a huge influence both on the scene of improvised music and of rock music. After playing together in a large ensemble called The Brotherhood of Breath, Feza eventually died on December 14, 1975.

This album, For Mongezi, originally issued only in 2008 and now reissued this year, comprises the music originally played at Mongezi’s memorial service. The original music, here in this reissue completely restored, was longer than 2 hours. It is useless to describe point by point what this music sounds like. It is obviously vital, forceful, dense, intense, of impact. Differently from the last record reviewed, this album is not devoted to bebop or post bop music. It is, indeed, a session of music that is keen on free improvisation and roots music, as Coltrane’s Kulu Sé Mama, if we want to find out a far away relative.

On many occasions we can hear Dyani great work on bass, pinched and arcoed, accompanied by drums and small percussions, McGregor ability to play atonally, influences coming from the US more than from UK anyway (The Blue Notes improvisations are never “non idiomatic”) and also from South African folklore, mixed with Pukwana and Moholo-Moholo invocations. Pukwana style on alto seems to have been developed from the original Charlie Parker influence to that of the late great Jimmy Lyons, with that oblique melancholy and bitterness who abruptly develop itself into a cascade of notes without being a clone.

But this record is important, as it is the memorial service for John Coltarne where Albert Ayler played captured in the monumental box set Holy Ghost, because we can feel how much different for African-American culture a departure is from European culture. It is not a matter of believing in the spirits or in a different life, or maybe is, but mostly is a difference related to agency. I remember you, so I’m here playing for you. I’m not only feeling emotions, but I’m sharing those emotions with the world, so maybe, I argue as a critic and as a listener, you are still alive with us throughout our playing, as a source of  inspiration.

Music to be listened to carefully, music filled with love and compassion, music that gives you at once that feeling of intensity and those nuances of depth into the souls of the players involved. If, as someone said to me, the Live in South Africa from 1964 showed us some musicians in love with jazz and willing to recreate that music but not completely mature, this For Mongezi instead leavea us listening the music of four complete and original musicians.

One can hear how important this music was for European improvisers, giving them that feeling of being rooted somewhere even if maybe only technically. Possibly Evan Parker, Alan Skidmore and Mike Osborne were compelled to develop their style incorporating that ritualistic element you can hear through this record. I wonder, as an example, if the binaural sound of Parker, that is his ‘playing through the void’ as he asserted during one concert I attended in London, was influenced somehow by Pukwana and friends’ way of creating music.

Obviously every music need an element of grounding, every form of art. The Blue Notes developed an intense link with ancestor’s rituals, stripped from their original believing – or maybe not? – but dedited to create a sound and a meaning that is modern and ancient at the same time. After all, music is still a ritual nowadays. For many people is a way to meet their idols and the community of listeners to have some fun, for others is a way to beign recognized by and recognize a community, for others again is a way to develop human skills as compassion and brotherhood, but always the spirit of the music is trying to uplift people outside of the everyday problems giving you the opportunity to enter into another dimension so that you can take it and bring it into the realm of reality. To make it better.

 


 

Friday, July 8, 2022

The Blue Notes “Legacy Live in South Africa 1964” (Ogun 1995, reissued in 2022)

If you would listen to fresh improvised or experimental music in 2020 or so, outside of Europe or the United States, you have to go to Mexico. If you would listen to something similar and at the same coordinates, but in 2010, you had to go to Turkey. There, in particular, you would be able to find musicians striving for their freedom of expression issuing new records and setting new collaborations, as the one with european genius saxophonist Peter Brotzmann and US incredible bandleader and multireedist Marshall Allen.

But what if you were searching for a new, exciting sound during the 1960s? Obviosly the answer would be: go to South Africa. There, despite of the apartheid, a bunch of simply brilliant and original musicians, mostly exhibiting through Universities or small clubs, were trying to overcome the barriers dividing people from people using music as a tool, as a device, as a peaceful weapon.

Why are you reading on this blog about this bunch of courageous musicians? Because label Ogun is now reissuing Blue Notes catalogue, and luckily enough last saturday, hanging around into some small record shops, I found out some copies of these records. In this review I will tell you about the live album Legacy – Live in South Afrika 1964, originally released only in 1995 because printing records of mixed bands during their lifetime wasn’t easy in the land of Nelson Mandela for many decades.

Legacy is a record that features the music of a sextet. The performers involved are pianist Chris McGregor, altoist Dudu Pukwana, tenorist Nick Moyake, trumpeter Mongezi Feza, bassist Johnny Dyani and drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo. This line up of The Blue Notes recorded in Durban this session of live music that, according to the first two pieces, Now and Coming Home, is more keen on Thelonious Monk as far as themes and development.

Life was not easy for a racially mixed band in the 1960s in South Africa, and so they moved quickly to London where their influence on both improvised scene and the so-called Canterbury Style was highly praised during the decades, giving the musicians involved the opportunity to become keener on a less non idiomatic and more direct way of expressing themselves through music, or the possibility to expand their palette with one foot into jazz and not only into rock style.

McGregor and his pals gave life to the Brotherhood of Breath when in the UK, but this record from the ‘segregation era’ is vivid, pulsating and interesting. If the first and second tracks are monkian as we have written here above, with I Cover The Waterfront they give life to an intense cover of a classic from the jazz repertoire; in listening to it one wonders what if they would have played it at the Juan-Les-Pins festival the same year. I strongly believed a black panther like Archie Shepp would have approved.

Two for Sandi is an original by Dudu Pukwana reminiscent of the bebop or post bop era, where he gives life to an incendiary performance along with his friends reedists, starting from Feza, after a quick introduction and a tutti-exposed theme. After some rest, with the mid tempos of McGregors’ Vortex Special, where the solos of alto (Pukwana is simply telling a story with all its nuances in there) and trumpet (Feza expresses himself through different colors and shapes here), while the tenor of Moyake plays far beyond the limits of a human voice as this particular saxophone is compared, there’s time for a little hommage to Miles Davis and So What thanks to the piano and reeds, before going back to the main theme of the original composition.

B My Dear and Dorkey House are a couple of themes from Pukwana. The first is a ballad still indebted to Monk, as the title itself can suggest, with an evocative tutti from the three horns which gets a round of applause by the audience, followed by a beautiful piano solo, while the last piece is another hommage to bebop, with flamboyant solos by Pukwana himself, Feza and Moyake. Far from being pure improvised music, this album shows a love for different traditions in the jazz area but with a cooperative more than a conflicting attitude.

In fact, the musicians are proud to expose their style and sound but without fighting for being recognized as the best performer over the others: we can feel yet that cooperative mood that from the following decade will hopefully become the norm in the jazz world. But the importance of this record is that of a hystorical testimony for all those who are interested in how jazz music had an impact on different lands and traditions, and how these new expressions modified the process in the mainstream communities of the free jazz and avant garde era. 

 


Saturday, June 4, 2022

Charles Mingus "Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus" (Candid, 1961 reissued in 2022)

The business related to reissues, both on CD and vynil, has a significant impact on the realm of improvised music, experimental music and jazz nowadays, since many of the great masters are passed away or anyway have seen their fluorishing period passing by. Not all the reissued material is always good, but many things reprinted, usually in the jazz fields, are enormous records. It is the case of the first reissues of the 1960s records released by Candid, a label led by the jazz critic Nat Hentoff, one of the great US liberals of those times, along with drummer Max Roach and bassist Charles Mingus.

During those times many were the hidden dangers a jazz cat or a real ‘hip’ could run into. You could record some sessions being payed only for the sessions themselves, I mean with no royalties for the copies the albums would sell, as an example; that’s the reason people like Giuseppi Logan and Henry Grimes, or later on Charles Gayle, decided to play at the margin of the business, which means along the roads asking for alms in exchange of few melodies played in solitude: after all, they were gaining almost the same amount of money.

It is hard, after all, to try to earn a living in a racist country, and now that we know that racism is systemic in our societies, there’s no surprise that such cultured and cultivated musicians had to live in such bad ways for so many years. Obviously people like Mingus and Dolphy, Roach and his wife Abbey Lincoln were very fierce guys, and they decided to create a label, called “Candid” because they were playing with racism, and the first record issued by the label was the masterpiece “We Insist! Freedom Now Suite”, an album echoing in the title the famous Sonny Rollins’ ‘Freedom Suite’ and featuring musicians such as Coleman Hawkins, Julian Priester and Booker Little. 

Highly praised for its artistic merits by such enlightened intellectuals as Amiri Imamu Baraka in his notable book “Black Music”, who underlined how the record had one foot in the African tradition – two percussionists were accompanying Max Roach as a drummer – and the other in the avant-garde – the vocal lines by Lincoln seemed to predict those of a Diamanda Galàs – “We Insist!” is not the only notable record issued by Candid. Other titles include, as far as the interests of the followers of this blog, “Candid Dolphy” by multi-reedist Eric Dolphy, Abbey Lincoln’s “Straight Ahead” and this “Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus”.

The idea for the record, as we can deduce reading another good read, John F. Goodman’s “Mingus Speaks”, has probably come to Mingus thanks to Eric Dolphy. In Mingus’ words, Dolphy, who at the very beginning of his career, as a member of the Chico Hamilton band, was playing ‘just like Charlie Parker’, at a certain point started to fluorish as an individual voice, the one we are accustomed to hear thanks to his beautiful records, and at a certain point he started attending Mingus’ house and reading his music sheet guided by his own curiosity. 

Eric Dolphy at a certain point started to note some details, like a couple of compositions written following ‘All The Things You Are’ and ‘What Is This Thing Called Love’, a couple of jazz standards often played by Charlie Parker and other bebop masters. The new compositions were ‘All The Things You Could Be By Now If Sigmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother’, a complex piece of music originally written for Buddy Collette, and ‘What Love’. These couple of compositions underlined Mingus’ debt with Charlie Parker and bebop, a music that in the same words of the bassist has a spiritual quality that pertain to the men who created it, as if they had a spiritual mission through music.

But the album starts with ‘Folk Forms No. 1’, that, according to Mingus, is a song based on what he was playing with his bass: if Mingus would change, the other musicians had to change. Not only the piece has a characteristic interplay between trumpeter Ted Curson and Dolphy, but it shows the telpathic interplay between Mingus and Dannie Richmond on drums, the musician that thanks to his playing made Mingus believe in God – according to his own words, since he could not understand how he would be able to read his mind and answer musically to him, if not by divine intervention. 

The other enormous piece of music included in this album is ‘Original Faubus Fables’, with Mingus and Richmond reciting an ironic text dedicated to governor Orval Faubus, who ordered the army not to let the black folks enter the school as according to the newly approved national law. Originally recorded for “Mingus Ah Uhm” a year before, without the text and with a less expressionistic approach, this piece is the base for the many live versions recorded by the various Mingus quartets and quintets during the year. A longer and incredible version, mixing ‘Faubus’ with fragments of compositions taken by the masterpiece ‘Tijuana Moods’, is available through the double album “The Great Concert Of Charles Mingus”, but there are many to tell you the truth worth listening to.

Those were the years of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, the years of the beginning of the black avant-garde in music and the various attempts to create a more equal, advanced and creative society. We all know what happened then, but the music comprised in this record is, as Marc Ribot said about some of the earlier Albert Ayler stuff, similar to some strange sacrifices in the room near you. A true time machine, in other words. We cannot but thank Glenn Barros, the new proprietor of Candid Record, for these reissues, and the sound engineer Bernie Grundman for his work on the original masters.