Performance portraits by Susan O’Connor


An insider and an outsider: Jamaaladeen Tacuma

Philadelphia-native Jamaaladeen Tacuma achieved his greatest popularity in the 1970s and 1980s when as part of the Punk-New Wave-Jazz scene he played regularly in New York in groups with tenor saxophonist David Murray and others, most especially as part of alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman's band. But as the electric bassist tells Philadelphia Weekly’s A.D. Amorosi, he never left Philadelphia and is always featured in the city’s annual Outsiders Improvised & Creative Music Festival. While some of the stories he tells about growing up in the racially divided city may be a little too Philly-centric, Tacuma, who now also plays acoustic bass, offers a quick rundown of how the city’s demographics have changed over the years. His early bands were ones of the first to adopt the same hippie attire and attitude as white rock bands. Today there’s more integration between African-American and White artists, to the extent that even his interest in regularly adding continental African sounds to improvised music is accepted.


Very Into American Jazz: Håvard Wiik

Although he doesn’t reject the marketing term Nordic Jazz, Berlin-based Norwegian pianist Håvard Wiik tells DownBeat’s Brad Cohan that American music and Jazz has been an influence on him since he first started playing. Explaining that while the newest disc by the co-op band Atomic takes its name from a Beach Boys tune, the veteran Scandinavian quintet idea of  playing other people’s music included tunes from the likes of committed Jazz musicians clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre and tenor saxophonist J an Garbarek from their most experimental period. At the same time Wiik says that the compositions he writes for his own trio with drummer Håkon Mjåset Johansen and bassist Ole Morten Vågan are more personal and reflect a certain sound the three have created together over the years.


No Place for The New Thing: Cleveland in the 1960s

He’s been imam of Cleveland’s Masjid al-Mu’min mosque since 1970, but before that Mutawaf Shaheed was a bass player who worked around the city with tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler and other first-generation avant gardists. In this Wire interview, Shaheed tells Pierre Crépon and Richard J. Koloda how the concept of Free Jazz and Black Nationalism influenced the city's music community at that time. Travelling with Ayler, and his brother, trumpeter Donald Ayler to Sweden, New York and other locations, the bassist saw the music developing and was also associated with other sound explorers like baritone saxophonist Charles Tyler, trumpeter Norman Howard and even drummer Sunny Murray. Yet his Ohio hometown was always hostile towards The New Thing and Albert Ayler in particular, a situation which Shaheed said eventually drove the saxophonist towards a simpler, more Rock-oriented sound. Among the revelations here are the real origin of the composition “Witches and Devils”; how and why Tyler wouldn’t play with white musicians; and how Donald Ayler's mental state was fragile long before he began playing his brother’s music.


Still Ferocious in his Eighties: Archie Shepp

Although The Washington Post’s Lauren Du Graf seems a little too glib in linking tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp’s intense Free Jazz and provocative Pan-African, Black Nationalist sentiments to contemporary academics and rappers he does give the 81-year-old elder statesman a forum to speak his mind. Mentioned are Shepp’s stance as the purported heir and extension of the musical ideas of his mentor, tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, and the many challenging the influential discs made by the saxophonist, as well as his dramatic spoken word interludes. Shepp, who now divides his time between Paris and Massachusetts, where he taught at the Massachusetts University at Amherst for 30 years, and still constantly tours, may have promoted a world view to his students as well younger Jazz players like pianist Jason Moran and percussionist Makaya McCraven, linking subsequent advances in the arts in Algeria to Shepp’s stand-out concert at the famous Pan-African Festival in 1969 may be giving the musician more credit than he wants.


Uri Caine: Balancing Jazz, Classical and Electronics

Although Keyboard magazine’s Jon Regen, probably because of the publication, orients some of his questions towards elaborations of gear used and advice to younger players, he does present a succinct overview of pianist Uri Caine’s career. Open to all sorts of influences, the Philadelphia-born Caine recounts how early on he mixed his straight-ahead Jazz playing with saxophonist Bootsy Barnes and drummer Philly Joe Jones with forays into Jazz-Rock Fusion on multiple keyboards with electric bassist Jamaaladeen Tacoma among others, as well as studying notated music at the conservatory and the university level. Since then his initial gigs as a versatile pianist who played with New York downtowners like alto saxophonist John Zorn and trumpeter Dave Douglas took a left turn when he recorded a series of CDs that re-imagined music by so-called classical composer such as Gustav Mahler and Johannes Bach. Caine, who composes string quartets and other non-improvised works, also continues to play acoustic Jazz in bands with the likes of bassist Mark Helias and drummer Clarence Penn, seems to be comfortable in all his musical worlds.   


A bassist’s journey with Albert Ayler: Bill Folwell

Although known, if at all, in Jazz circles for the brief period he spent backing tenor saxophone visionary Albert Ayler in the late 1960s, bassist Bill Folwell had a Jazz history before and after that period, dabbling with Art-Rock, Pop and Blues-Rock and Blues music and has recently returned to active playing. In this interview with Point of Departure’s Marc Chaloin, the Rochester, N.Y.-raised Folwell tells how a friendship with clarinetist Perry Robinson introduced him to Free Jazz and how shortly afterwards Ayler hired him to play in his band with drummer Beaver Harris and brother, trumpeter Donald Ayler. Folwell says the trumpeter never matched the saxophonist’s talents. “He was babysitting Donald, pretty much,” he recalls, and remembers the less-than-enthusiastic response to some of the group’s concerts in Europe, New York and even in Ayler’s home town of Cleveland. Folwell began playing electric bass around that time, which would eventually lead to a less-than-happy tenure with the psychedelic Rock band Ars Nova and other pop groups. Ayler’s encouragement of using his electric bass line, stemming from the saxophonist’s desire to become popular, would eventually result in Folwell, Canned Heat guitarist Henry Vestine, keyboardist Call Cobbs, horn sections and vocalists such as Mary Maria playing simple Rock-type sounds on Ayler’s final and most controversial LPs.


A Personal Memory of Joseph Jarman

Among less personal memories about multi-instrumentalist Joseph Jarman following his death at 81 earlier this year, was this one published in ArtForum from his long-time Art Ensemble of Chicago (AEC) reed partner, Roscoe Mitchell. Going back to how he and Jarman first met in 1961 and expanded their musical palate through membership in Muhal Richard Abrams' Experimental Band and later recording together, Mitchell recounts how Jarman came to join the AEC. Sadly it was following the death of two members of Jarman's own group. Luckily the multi-instrumentalist was able to join with Mitchell, bassist Malachi Favors and trumpeter Lester Bowie to make the famous 1969 trip to France which cemented AEC’s reputation as sound explorers. Besides being inspired by Jarman’s musical interests over the years, Mitchell also recounts how Jarman’s poetry recitations during AEC concerts notably changed how the band's so-called Free Music music was presented and appreciated. And note Mitchell recounting of who Jarman’s unexpected duet partner was at an early Chicago concert.


An Academic Conference on Cecil Taylor’s Influences

Giving the late pianist-composer the serious attention he deserves, New York University’s Graduate Center and the Hitchcock Institute for the Study of American Music at Brooklyn College is sponsoring an academic conference on the art of Cecil Taylor. Scheduled for October 24 to October 26 of this year, the conference will build on and amplify the scholarship available on Taylor’s musical and poetic works. Keynote speakers already scheduled include Nahum Dimitri Chandler, David Grubbs, Fred Moten, Fumi Okiji and Ben Young. The conference will celebrate Taylor the educator by hosting an ensemble workshop led by bassoonist Karen Borca, who will pass on a composition dictated to her by Taylor. Additionally one evening will feature a concert and discussion by drummer Andrew Cyrille, bassist William Parker and pianist Matthew Shipp. Until May 3 the Conference will accept other proposals to present papers, music etc. during that weekend.  More details:


Flutist Nicole Mitchell’s Influences and Influence

With a more far-ranging approach than usual to the music offered to the musicians to discuss in a Jazz Times’ Before and After listening session, George Varga manages to elicit memorable comments about mentorship, experimentation and craftsmanship from flutist Nicole Mitchell. Mitchell, an academic and former Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) chairperson, listens intensely and discourses on such subjects as the use of electronics and extended techniques after hearing tunes by flutists Robert Dick and Matthias Ziegler; how the far-ranging thinking and writing of trombonist George Lewis and flutist James Newton helped shape her idea of how to be a musician after hearing a session by the two playing together; and after listening to a later humorous cut by Sun Ra, relating an incident when at 19 she attended a concert by keyboardist/orchestra leader and finding that his and her ideas on Afrofuturism jibed so closely, that she figures she would have accepted his invitation to join the band in Philadelphia if she hadn’t moved to Chicago and joined the AACM.


Exploratory Jazz’s Place on the Boston Scene

While Bandcamp Daily’s Tzvi Gluckin seems a little too concerned with mentioning the number of Jazz-Fusion musicians and groups that came from Boston over the years, he does offer a quick history of the roots of the city’s avant-garde Jazz scene here. With educational institutions like the Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory as attractions, exploratory musicians such as pianist Cecil Taylor and multi-reedist Makanda Ken McIntyre were making local sonic waves as early as the 1950s. Although today venues to work in may still be small, out-of-the-way and often pay-to-play, a group of non-mainstream performers continues to evolve their sounds in Beantown, some of whom teach music at the post-secondary level. Besides veteran tenor saxophonist George Garzone and the Fringe trio, others making notable contributions include pianist Pandelis Karayorgis; alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs with his trio and his Fully Celebrated Orchestra; and Timo Shanko, who excels both as a bassist and a tenor saxophonist.


When Experimental Film Making met Experimental Music

While Lithuanian-American film maker and critic Jonas Mekas who died at 96 in late January was best-known for his championing of experimental cinema starting at the mid-1950s, The Wire’s Alan Licht reveals the filmmaker’s links to experimental music during the same period. While Mekas was promoting avant-garde poetic, erotic and sometimes irritating personal films being made by the likes of Jack Smith, Maya Deren, Joseph Cornell, Andy Warhol and Kenneth Anger, some of the ideas for these films came from his and other movie makers’ interaction with exploratory players and composers. These include the nearly infinite music composed by La Monte Young, and soundtracks or intermedia events featuring the Fugs and future Velvet Underground members Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison and John Cale, plus contributions Tony Conrad, who later became film maker and educator as well as a musician. In later years younger players such as Licht and Lee Renaldo would use some of Mekas’ film as the background visuals for improvised performances.


Nicole Mitchell’s New Educational Challenges

Although The Pittsburgh Current’s Mike Shanley appears slightly overawed interviewing flutist Nicole Mitchell about her new position as The University of Pittsburgh (UP)’s Chair in Jazz Studies, he does manage to present some of her history and concept of Jazz education. Joking that at one time, no school would want an adventurous artist like her near the jazz department, Mitchell outlines her commitment to the Jazz tradition and helping students find their own voices. The piece also traces her career that includes her membership and later presidency of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). Slyly she also notes that while she never played In Pittsburgh, a few years ago, while teaching in California, she was part of a telematic performance that also featured AACM trombonist George Lewis in New York, and pianist Geri Allen, who then headed UP’s Jazz Studies program. Allen succeeded saxophonist Nathan Davis, who created the program in 1969.


Clarinetist Perry Robinson’s personality and legacy

Although known as a linchpin of the so-called avant-garde Jazz scene, clarinetist Perry Robinson, who died at 80 in January, was much more than that, both musically and personally, explains The Jersey Journal’s Jim Testa. Although famous for his associations with the bands of bassist Charlie Haden, saxophonist Archie Shepp and an experimental unit of pianist Dave Brubeck, Robinson, son of left-wing composer Earl Robinson, grew up with the likes of singer/songwriters Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger performing around the house. Living the final part of his life in Hoboken, New Jersey, his early interest in all musical forms meant he would often sit in with local Country, Funk or Rock bands, sometimes with another FreeJazzer, alto saxophonist Mark Whitecage, and even collaborate with supposed anti-folk singers like his cousin Jeffrey Lewis. Robinson was also the dedicatée and original soloist for composer Gary Schneider’s Concerto for Jazz Clarinetist and String Orchestra. His friend Robinson was “Hoboken’s most famous, non-famous person in music,” says Schneider.


Different Methods of Dissemination: Fielder, Jarman and the AACM

Although the recent deaths of multi-instrumentalist Joseph Jarman and drummer Alvin Fielder have led to new appreciation for their celebrated musicianship, NPR Music’s Howard Mandel, points out that each man's contributions went past mere playing. Both nascent members of Chicago`s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) in the early 1960s, both demonstrated their exploratory playing skills with, in Jarman’s case, saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell bassist  Malachi Favors and others who later made up the Art Ensemble of Chicago (AEC); and in Fielder's case with the likes of saxophonist Mitchell, Fred Anderson and many others. But it was Jarman's interest in theatrical trappings – he always performed in face paint and a hat and recited poetry –  that encouraged new listeners to appreciate the AEC's style and those of subsequent AACM performers. Meanwhile, relocated to Mississippi, Fielder helped organize activities to bring experimental music to the region, with opportunities expanding even further when Dallas trumpeter Dennis Gonsález joined and followed a similar course in his area. Initiatives like these helped organize groups and a network of sympathetic venues that provided opportunities for later generations of AACM members, from now-established bandleaders like drummer Kahil El`Zabar and saxophonist Ernest Dawkins to relatively young ones like trumpeter Corey Wilkes and cellist Tomeka Reid. READ

Anthony Braxton and the future of Opera

The New York Times’ Seth Colter Walls seems more concerned with showing how much he knows about other experimental opera created by the likes of Karlheinz Stockhausen, and seems amazed that composer Anthony Braxton is still creating important, exploratory music at a frenetic pace as he nears his 75th birthday in 2020, but he does supply some information about the newest chapter of the composer’s Trillium L opera project. With a slightly condescending tone,Walls emphasizes Braxton’s honors such as his MacArthur “genius” grant and NEA Jazz Master designation before praising the composer’s justly famous Jazz-oriented quartet of the 1990s; his influence on other composer/performers like saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock; and finally noting where other important works like the recently released 12-album Ghost Trance Music set are available. Audio examples embedded may add more to understanding Braxton’s work than the article.


The Value of Musical Process: Lloyd Swanton

Evolving a musical concept based on process rather than completion is how Australian trio, The Necks evolved their unique style. In this excerpt from an interview with The Strand’s Andy Hamilton, Lloyd Swanton, who has played bass with the group since its beginning, talks about the thought process that went into forming the non-idiomatic Free Music ensemble in the 1980s with keyboardist Chris Abrahams and percussionist Tony Buck. Further details demand a download, but the link includes a 48-minute video of The Necks in concert.


The Best (Local) Band You Never Heard (Of)

Out of town – and even in Europe – individually these musicians are headliners, but in Chicago locals can catch sets by the Extraordinary Popular Delusions (EPD) quartet every Monday night in a pass-the-hat situation. In this brief preview for an upcoming gig, The Chicago Reader’s Bill Meyer reports on the ESP evident in the EPD’s improvised performances. That’s because its members – Mars Williams on alto and tenor saxophones, percussion, zither and toys; Jim Baker on electric piano, synthesizer and viola; Brian Sandstrom, who play bass, electric guitar and trumpet; and Steve Hunt, an expert on drums, percussion and waterphone  – have had a weekly quartet gig at one or another Chicago nightspot since 2005. All of the players have extensive experience on their own or working with one another in bands like the NRG Ensemble. The only fact missing in the story is that tenor saxophonist Ed Wilkerson Jr. regularly sits in for Williams when the latter is unavailable. READ

Blue Note Records’ German-Jewish roots and ethos

Nazi persecution forced two German-Jewish Jazz fans –Francis Wolff and Alfred Lion –to flee Berlin in the 1930s and relocate in New York, an action which inadvertently led to the founding of Blue Note, one of the music’s most iconic, and fondly remembered labels. Reviewing It Must Schwing (sic), a new film about the duo and the label, Playbill’s Barry Singer posits that Wolff’s and Lion’s experiences with European prejudice led them to champion Jazz and its African-American practitioners who were then frequently exploited by American record companies.  During its 1939-1965 heyday, Blue Note recorded such important Jazz stylists as Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter and John Coltrane. Besides highlighting other parts of the tale in the film, interviews with some of those still-living innovators recall the original owners’ enthusiasm and fair business practices as well as the  lingering shock many still feel when, because of ill-health, the two sold the label to a large corporation in 1965, which altered its familial methods. READ

Tracking Contemporary Avant-Garde Jazz in Poland (Sort of)

Although Bandcamp Daily’s Nate Patrin somewhat tenuously tries to link the 100th anniversary of Poland’s  creation as a modern state and pianist Dave Brubeck’s combo's visit to the country in the 1958 with the freedom that lead the subsequent growth of Jazz in the country, he seems to be ignoring a significant group of modern players today. While Brubeck’s example may have encouraged now-revered early modern Jazz icons like pianist Krzysztof Komeda and trumpeter Tomasz Stańko to follow uncompromising paths despite the political climate, with a couple of  exceptions, Patrin appears to think that their successor are players who draw more from  hip-hop samples, ProgRock,  Krautrock, drone, and ambient rhythms than Jazz improvisation. Perhaps cross-over bands like EABS and  Niechęć may one day became famous among those who object to Jazz contaminating their pseudo-Jazz programs, but even when Patrin mentions more exploratory players such as clarinetist Wacław Zimpel and guitarist Raphael Rogińsk, he suggests listening to tracks they recorded that aim more towards mainstream instrumental Pop than anything more challenging. READ

Sunny Murray’s Early European Career

Celebrated overseas, but scuffling for work in the United States, drummer Sunny Murray’s musical life in the late 1960s-early 1970s set the pattern for his eventual permanent relocation to Paris, where he died in 2017. Although The Wire’s Pierre Crépon spends a little too much time trying to cram Murray’s experiences into concepts developed from physicist Erwin Schrödinger (!) and scientist Herman von Helmholtz (!!), he does manage to discuss some of the musical highlights of Murray’s career after he parted ways with pianist Cecil Taylor. Besides legendary 1968 European concerts, where Murray played alongside older drum-innovators Max Roach, Elvin Jones and Art Blakey, Crépon lists a number of important late '60s, early '70s sessions in which Murray participated. They include as a member of  bassist Alan Silva's Celestrial Communication Orchestra; BYG sideman gigs with tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp, pianist Dave Burrell and trombonist Clifford Thornton; with the drummer’s own band featuring little-known Free Jazz saxophonists Byard Lancaster and Kenneth Terroade; plus one exceptional 1971 Intercommunal Music LP on which the drummer’s working band joined forces with the group  of "official" leader, French pianist François Tusques,  for an historic release. READ