December 6, 2014
Creative Music Studio
Archive Selections, Vol. 1
By Ken Waxman
Brainchild of Ornette Coleman, Karl Berger and Ingrid Ingrid Sertso, the Woodstock, N.Y.-based Creative Music Studio (CMS) has had an influence that continues to resonate past its physical presence from 1971-1984. Dedicated to erasing the false barriers among different musics, its workshops and concerts not only helped spread freer sounds among players identified with jazz or so-called classical music, but with participants from overseas welcomed, it helped birth a sophisticated variant of world music.
This first volume of over 400 hours of hitherto uncollected performances and workshops CMS is making available through the library of Columbia University, the three hours of music recorded in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s highlight familiar names, plus those no longer on the scene. Most valuable are tracks where jazzers try out concepts in large or small groups; but there are also works-music surprises.
Of the tracks featuring the mostly unidentified CMS orchestra, Roscoe Mitchell’s 14-minute untitled track is the most compositionally sophisticated. Iridescent ensemble harmonies accompany the sharp bites and barks from the composer’s alto saxophone plus skimming tongue flutters from Garrett List’s trombone in the front line. Eventually the narrative thickens into undulating swing, and then is turned on its heads with a brisk march as a coda. Olu Dara’s three contributions come from a contradictory space. He segments Sun Ra-like grooves pushed by florid horn section riffs with fitful asides from a percussive flute, clanking guitar, staccato piano chording and his own lead trumpet on one track. Yet by puffing harmonica and vocalizing on another song he gets the ensemble to add drum backbeats and blues guitar licks, resulting in a big band variant on what could be a Sonny Boy Williamson II number. The exciting result is knowing primitivism. Meanwhile Oliver Lake’s tracks fall in-between those of the other composers. As Michael Gregory’s near psychedelic guitar lines reference jazz-rock, the rest of the group clings to a basic big band structure on three 1976 tunes, encouraged by Lake’s brittle alto tone. Better-recorded, 1979’s “Two by Two” adds the punch needed to achieve the uninhibited excitement missing from earlier tracks.
Moving to small groups, the four 1980 selections featuring drummer Ed Blackwell with soprano and tenor saxophonist Chares Brackeen are solid stand-outs. They’re doubly precious since the drummer died in 1992 and Brackeen’s fitful career of the ‘70s and ‘80s has been stalled for years. Justly celebrated for his intuitive duo work with Dewey Redman, Don Cherry and others, Blackwell is appropriately matched by the saxophonist, who recorded in the reed chair of what eventually become Old and New Dreams. If the drummer’s snappy clanks approximate a Second Line parade on their own, then Brackeen amplifies the mood with what sounds like reverse bugle calls. Elsewhere, when Blackwell’s sensuous pacing touches on African log drumming, then the saxophonist’s virtuosic multiphonics move pieces back to the continent on which jazz was born. Brackeen’s harsh Traneism get a proper workout on the penultimate and final tracks as he jabs the themes from side-to-side before revealing an inner sensitivity that joins Blackwell’s drumming to give the endings happy lilts. Although his discography is equally sparse, the contributions from bassist David Izenson (1932-1979) are buried somewhat on the three tracks under his name, with more space given to Sertso’s hippe-era vocals and Berger’s vibes and piano. More substantial are two tracks matching Leroy Jenkins’ tart fiddle licks and James Emery’s animated guitar playing. Sympathetically comping or roughly strumming Emery demonstrates the commanding presence that would soon allow him to co-found the String Trio of New York. On “Okidanokh” for instance his command of the melody never falters as he backs Jenkins’ spectacular triple-stopping or reverses roles to solo with jagged directness. New music pianists Frederic Rzewski and Ursula Oppens play a version of Berger`s “7 in C”. Formalist presentation and careful voicing connect the two as neo-ragtime mixes with time suspension. Oddly enough the closest parallel is to performances Lennie Tristanto double tracked using two pianos in the ‘50s.
As for the so-called world music, Brazilian berimbau player Nana Vasconcelos sounds essentially as he does today, if perhaps a little closer to his folksy roots. But it’s instructive to hear hand drummers trading fours on Ghanaian kora player Foday Suso’s three 1980 tracks, considering the percussionists are young Hamid Drake and Adam Rudolph. Tellingly, the main emphasis of Suso’s Mandingo Griot Society’s is on gypsy jazz-like string interplay between Suso and electric bassist John Marsh. All and all though, the three tracks by Turkish reedist Ismet Siral’s group are closest to the CMS concept of sound intermingling. Still the linkage between the drum-based backing and his fiery ney tones appears a bit forced, two traditions producing exciting rhythmic parallels, but not quite meeting, like Coleman`s experiments with the Master Musicians of Joujouka of around that same time.
In short Archive Selections, Vol. 1 confirms that not all the CMS sounds captured were ready for prime time. But on the other hand the good stuff captured here is very good indeed. The variety also suggests that many other unexposed musical gems are likely to show up on subsequent volumes.
Tracks: CD1: Untitled 1; Untitled 2; Untitled 3; Untitled 4; May Day; Child of the Night; I Am a Leaf for Today; 7inC; Ashiata; Okidanokh; CD2: Untitled 1; Untitled 2; Untitled 3; CMS Scene 1; CMS Scene 2; CMS Scene 3; Two by Two; Untitled CD3: CD3: Oy; Untitled; Merdevin; Call and Response; Berimbau Solo; Kuumba Sora; Demba Tenkeren; Disco Gate
Personnel: CD1: 1-4: Charles Brackeen: soprano, tenor saxophones; Ed Blackwell: drums 5-7: Karl Berger: piano, vibes; David Izenson: bass; Ingrid Sertso: vocals; 8: Frederic Rzewski and Ursula Oppens: pianos; 9, 10: Leroy Jenkins: violin; James Emery: guitar CD2: 1-3: Olu Dara: trumpet and harmonica; the CMS Orchestra 4-7: James Harvey: trombone; Oliver Lake: alto saxophone, flute Michael Gregory: guitar; the CMS Orchestra 8: Garrett List: trombone; Roscoe Mitchell: alto, soprano saxophones; the CMS Orchestra CD3: 1-3: Ismet Siral: ney, flute, soprano saxophone; Steve Gorn: bansuri flutes; “and friends” 4, 5: Nana Vasconcelos: voice, berimbau; CMS participants 6-8: The Mandingo Griot Society: Foday Suso: kora; John Marsh: electric bass; Hamid Drake: drums; Adam Rudolph: percussion