Sardonically referring to the praise that has accrued to him with his Snakeoil Ensemble’s CDs, alto saxophonist/composer Tim Berne tells the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Britt Robson that he really hasn’t grown up from enfant terrible in his 40-year career; it’s just that more people are listening to his discs. In a well-balanced piece on the saxophonist, Robson touches on Berne’s earlier music, discusses his influences, compositional style and the interpretative skills of Snakeoil sidemen: clarinetist Oscar Noriega, pianist Matt Mitchell and Ches Smith on drums and vibes.
Performance portraits by Susan O’Connor
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Retrospectively the Blue Notes band and those groups subsequently led by its former members have been recognized as probably the most important music to have emerged from Apartheid-era South Africa in the 1960s. But, as Tony McGregor points out in his Tony’s Place blog, it took the group’s mixture of South African sounds and FreeBop a while to be accepted. His sympathetic account sketches the pre-European history of the Blue Notes – trumpeter Mongezi Feza, alto saxophonist Dudu Pukwana, pianist Chris McGregor, bassist Johnny Dyani and drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo – making the point that racial conditions in their homeland forced their exile, even though they were well-rewarded “stars” at the time. McGregor touches on the Blue Notes’ early London gigs which influenced the likes of Evan Parker and Keith Tippett, and the later ironic early deaths of almost every member, so that the universally praised Moholo-Moholo is now the band’s only survivor.
Most reports on the 50th anniversary celebration of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) focus on the organization’s famous standard bearers such as Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell. But to emphasize the AACM’s scope, New City’s Corey Hall discusses the experiences of two lesser-known but vital AACM members, drummer Dushun Mosley and violinist Renée Baker. Mosley, who has played in Ed Wilkerson’s Eight Bold Souls and with saxophonist Hannah John Taylor, recalls his AACM introduction after hearing Mitchell lecture while Baker, originally in an ensemble with flutist Nicole Mitchell, has composed and presented a large-scale gospel-opera. This project was initially encouraged by the late tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson, one of the founders of the AACM.
Joe Cole of the Santa Barbara Independent appears awe-struck that a real-live National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master has actually lived in the area since the 1980s. But in this interview he does give tenor saxophonist/flautist Charles Lloyd, 77, an appropriate forum for his thoughts. Lloyd, who voices prototypical California concerns about personal spiritual practices and worries about the state’s water shortage, does explain how his move from segregated Memphis to UCLA’s almost all-white music school in the 1950s led him to broaden his horizons after hours, playing with the likes of alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman, bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Billy Higgins. Lloyd’s original musical ideas eventually led to the formation of his own quartet with pianist Keith Jarrett, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Jack DeJohnette, resulting in fame and millions of LPs sold. However, rather than asking about Lloyd's subsequent decades-long hiatus from music, Cole lets the reedist concentrate on praising his most recent working band featuring pianist Jason Moran, plus plugging his new CD, the hearing of which Cole bizarrely likens to the local pride the interviewer gets from watching Santa Barbara native Katy Perry sing.
When Bernard Stollman died in late April at 85, the usual number of outrageous, semi-apocryphal stories surfaced about his handling of ESP-Disk in its first incarnation from 1964 to the early 1970s. But as Richard Williams points out in his The Blue Moment blog, the risks that Stollman took recording unknown artists including tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler, the Fugs, drummer Milford Graves, Pearls Before Swine et. al, far outweighed his deficiencies as a businessman. If ESP-Disk's royalty payments were late or non-existent, Graves who later founded his own label, points out that since no one else was recording experimental players, it was Stollman’s support which got the musicians noticed and their LPs distributed world-wide.
When alto saxophonist/composer Ornette Coleman died at 85 on June 11, one of Jazz’s major figures ceased offering new ideas as he had done during his nearly 50 years in the public eye. Among the published appreciations of Coleman’s unique gifts is one published in the New Yorker by cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum. Bynum first heard Coleman at a far enough remove from the alto saxophonist’s first records with trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Ed Blackwell to wonder how the swinging bluesy sound could be characterized as so far out when it first appeared on record. Bynum adds that Coleman’s music not only affected exploratory jazz musicians like tenor saxophonist John Coltrane and by osmosis more mainstream ones like trumpeter Miles Davis, but also experimental rockers, especially when the saxophonist, who also wrote a symphony and a chamber piece for string quartet, put together an electric band, featuring the likes of guitarist James ‘Blood’ Ulmer, and drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson.
While many Jazz fans know of the American Motor City’s reputation for producing top flight players in the 1950s, native Gerald Cleaver speaks of the city’s continuing and influential deep musical roots. Although a New Yorker since 2002, Cleaver, part of the Black Host band with alto saxophonist Darius Jones, guitarist Brandon Seabrook, multi-instrumentalist Cooper-More and bassist Pascal Niggenkemper, tells The Detroit Free Press’s Mark Stryker, that his earliest influences came from Detroit. Growing up near the legendary Blue Bird nightclub he absorbed what he calls “real deal” Jazz. He was influenced by the examples of local players such as trumpeter Marcus Belgrave and drummer Roy Brooks. In fact, following university, while he was back in Detroit teaching middle school, it was local bassist Jaribu Shahid, who recommended him to saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell. That eight-year association with Mitchell allowed him to express his made-in-Detroit confidence and eventually establish himself on the New York Jazz scene.
Through a combination of talent, luck and access Chuck Stewart, now 87, photographed a huge number of Jazz’s most important figures from the 1940s to the 1970s. But, as he tells Newsweek’s Jared T. Miller, he created some of his now classic portraits of the likes of tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, singer Nina Simone, multi-reedist Eric Dolphy, bandleader Duke Ellington and pianist Thelonious Monk only because he was a professional photographer doing a job for many record companies. Yet overly modest Stewart, who shot his first picture at 13, and studied photography in university, also says he would listen to the artists’ music before he took their pictures and decide how best they should be presented. His biggest regret: while most photos of Coltrane during his tenure at Impulse! are by Stewart, the cover shot of Trane’s famous A Love Supreme LP is from its producer’s snapshot.
Although the heyday of this provocative performance art-cum-music movement was in the years directly following founder George Maciunas’ 1963 Fluxus Manifesto and mostly died out after the 1970s, New Music Box’s Caitlin Schmid finds some manifestations of its anarchistic ethos still exist. While outlining a few of the European-American movement’s more outrageous performance-pranks designed to mock music’s high seriousness, and including a video from a Fluxus Festival in Wiesbaden, she completely misses Fluxus’ influence on free music. Both German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and Dutch pianist Misha Mengelberg were on the fringes of the Fluxus movement in the early 1960s. From that point on, their combination of commitment to outside sounds plus an anarchistic insistence on going their own way, had its genesis in Fluxus’ values and has continued to spur on other non-conformist players.
Pianist/composer Thelonious Monk was pretty selective in his choice of collaborators, although arranger Oliver Nelson and flugelhornist Clark Terry were some of his more unusual associates, along with more famous stylists like saxophonist John Coltrane, French hornist Julius Watkins and drummer Frankie Dunlop But until the London Jazz Collector (LJC) discovered the unreleased test pressing, few knew about Monk’s early 1960s one-off session with singer Elvis Presley. Revealing details about the hitherto unknown disc on its page, that includes LP cover pictures, song titles and Matrix numbers, the LJC explains that this project was an attempt by the singer to broaden his range by recording vocal versions of some of the pianist’s compositions. However the disc was subsequently rejected for release by Blue Note’s Alfred Lion because he didn’t think association with an untried singer would help Monk’s career. The LJC was even able to send copies of this rare disc to interested fans who read this important news story published on April 1.
Although improvisers such as saxophonist Lol Coxhill and drummer Han Bennink are known for their comedic bits, the idea of comedy playing an important part in Free Music seems an anomaly. But according to The Wire’s Clive Bell, in the United Kingdom at least, there’s a lot more connection than most realize between comedy and Free Improv. Besides obvious example like drummer Mark Sanders accompanying a bingo game and trombonist Alan Tomlinson playing in the middle of a country stream, he cites other, lesser-known instances, such as when saxophonist Evan Parker, trombonist Wolter Wierbos and Bennink accompanied with wide musical burlesque, British comedian/singer Vic Reeves on a recording.
Arguably Poland’s best-known Jazz musician, trumpeter Tomasz Stańko has been involved in all facets of modern improvised music in his home land, from Hard Bop in the 1960s to today’s neo-Nordic ECM sound. Writing in Culture.PL, Wojciech Oleksiak traces the brassman’s evolution from intuitive sideman to composer Krzysztof Komeda through his experiences with Free Jazz alongside the likes of cellist Peter Warren and drummer Edvard Vesala and his later immersion in the so-called clean sound of ECM records. Although Stańko is clean now, he still insists that his periods of being wasted on drugs and alcohol during Poland’s Communist past helped his creativity. “You didn’t work much under that [Communist] system,” he said. “Everybody was a hippie.”
Known for leading his own bands, plus membership in high-powered trios involving bassists such as Mark Helias and William Parker, New York-based tenor and soprano saxophonist Tony Malaby tell Point of Departure’s Troy Collins that he catalogues for future use images and sensations that he visualizes when he plays. Unsurprisingly Tucson-born Malaby originally studied drawing and painting before concentrating on the saxophone. Involved with creating a unique group vocabulary for each of his bands, Malaby says his ideal saxophone sound is produced by himself without electronics or add-ons. He also admits that his TubaCello quartet with tubaist Dan Peck, cellist Christopher Hoffman and percussionist John Hollenbeck is, in part, a reaction to playing in so many double-bass centred ensembles.
The focus should be expected coming from Bloomberg Business, but Devin Leonard has crafted a surprisingly informed article on how trumpeter Dave Douglas manages to make a living as a Jazz musician. Citing Jazz CD sales which have fallen from 23 million to five million in the decade; and how major so-called Jazz labels have become mere Adult-Pop imprints, Leonard points out that Douglas running his own Greenleaf label is one reason he stays solvent and adventurous. Unsatisfied with a major label stint, Douglas, through Greenleaf, now offers his music in a variety of formats, leads a series of bands and even records other players such as guitarist Nels Cline and saxophonist Donny McCaslin for the imprint. To give him and the label extra exposure, Douglas, with an associate, bassist Michael Bates, even hosts Noise From The Deep, a weekly podcast of music and interviews with players from throughout the Jazz spectrum.
Three CDs into Coin Coin, her epic 12-album program of musical meditations on American power and color, Rolling Stone has finally discovered alto saxophonist Matana Roberts. Although the magazine’s Christine Lee, a self-described chronicler of Atlanta’s hip-hop scene is sympathetic, it seems that Roberts’ concern about someone coming from a “colonialist or patriarchal aesthetic” interviewing her may be correct. Pointedly, it seems that Roberts’ interpretation through sound and songs of color distinctions in Coin Coin is nearly buried under the weight of Lee's more mundane questions.
That broad thesis appears to be the opinion of The Chicago Tribune’s Howard Reich. But in this article celebrating the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (ACCM)’s upcoming 50th anniversary he makes a strong case for how this self-help group helped strengthen Jazz’s roots in the community while also creating original sounds. Citing information from such AACM founders as pianist Muhal Richard Abrams and the late tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson, Reich explains that rather than being revolutionary, the Windy City musicians’ initial idea in 1965 was merely to create work opportunities for improvisers in a shrinking local scene that was increasingly turning to pop music. Since the ACCM wasn’t confined to any style or idiom, all sorts of concepts were, and continued to be welcome. And this lack of musical cant is why such disparate AACM figures as multi-reedist Anthony Braxton, flutist Nicole Mitchell and saxophonist Henry Threadgill, among many others, ended up becoming respected world-wide.
Celebrating his 60th birthday in New York with a series of concerts, tenor saxophonist David Murray tells The Washington Post’s Giovanni Russonello that he tries to share experiences with all musicians whose work grows out of the African Diaspora. Russonello, who appears surprised that Murray can play with a rap-poet one set, a clarinet choir the next and a trio with pianist Geri Allen, and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington on the third, sees Murray as the link between the harmonic sparseness of John Coltrane and the lyrical style of Don Byas. He also seems to think the saxophonist brought “blues humor and playful ironies” to the so-called avant-garde. Then again Russonello's ideas may have come from interviewing neo-con Stanley Crouch, with whom along with radical Amiri Baraka, the saxophonist maintained long friendships.
On the 10th anniversary of American soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy’s death, Point of Departure’s Stuart Broomer surveys the saxophonist’s early work, pointedly noting that it was Lacy – and his associate, trombonist Roswell Rudd – who were most responsible for creating a niche for pianist Thelonious Monk’s so-called difficult compositions in the Jazz tradition. Although Lacy (1934-2004) continued to play Monk tunes and allude to the pianist’s canon in his own improvisations until his death, the band he, Rudd, drummer Denis Charles and bassist Henry Grimes organized in 1963 first gave the prominence to Monk’s music that the Jazz establishment, including even the respected Free German pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, wouldn’t adopt for 40-odd years. Broomer also points out that Lacy’s expatriation to Europe in the late 1960s helped expand interest in Monk compositions among a generation of Continental pianists including Holland’s Misha Mengelberg, von Schlippenbach, Swiss Irène Schweizer and Berlin-based Japanese Aki Takase.
New York’s Free Music scene, and the innovators who arrived in the Apple to expand it, is the usual focus of histories of 1970s Avant-Garde Jazz. But, as Mark Weber points out in his blog, LPs on tiny labels by experimental players who eventually became known elsewhere, were also being recorded in Los Angeles at the same time. Among the discs that reflected the burgeoning local scene there, were first efforts by veterans such as clarinetist John Carter, cornetist Bobby Bradford, flautist James Newton and pianist Horace Tapscott. Weber also speaks to multi-reedist Vinny Golia, whose Beverly Hills-based 9 Winds imprint also began in the 1970s to record younger experimenters with similar advanced ideas.
Although British filmmaker Stewart Morgan writing in The Wire admits that film techniques such as editing detract from the spontaneity of free music, he argues that a thorough understanding of both mediums can result in superior products. Morgan, who made a documentary about AMM percussionist Eddie Prévost, prefers stylistic videos such as Helen Petts' take on saxophonist Lol Coxhill to more orotund efforts such as Shirley Clarke’s Ornette: Made in America about saxophonist Ornette Coleman. More to the point, he declares that there’s much filmic territory left to explore. Considering that inventive filmmakers from Norman McLaren to Luke Fowler have been influenced by Jazz, he insists that with the right tools, more creative music films, both features and documentaries, can be made.