Performance portraits by Susan O’Connor
NEWS FROM ELSEWHERE
Although he’s managed to stay clear of Jazz’s Neo-Conservatives' mania for slavishly recreating the tunes of the music’s major figures, cornetist Kirk Knuffke, usually in the company of pianist Jesse Stacken or saxophonist Josh Stinson, has still managed to record music by many more exploratory older musicians. But as The Village Voice’s Francis Davis points out here, earlier efforts by the thirtyish, Colorado-born brass player, which dealt with the music of Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Albert Ayler, Steve Lacy and even Misha Mengelberg, were only a prelude up to his trio’s recent recorded salute to pocket trumpeter Don Cherry. Mostly know as the Sancho Panza to alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman’s Don Quixote, Cherry not only played with other major American Jazzers after leaving Coleman’s band, but was often overseas, helping to create a fusion with other musics and Jazz. Plus he was one of the first Yanks to regularly work with foreign musicians of the caliber of Argentinean tenor saxophonist Gato Barbieri and German pianist/vibraharpist Karl Berger.
A retrospective interview with Red Bull Music Academy Daily’s Hank Steamer that took place just after percussion master Milford Graves had recorded with electric bassist Bill Laswell, the Q+A ranges over a wide variety of topics. In a career that began with an apprenticeship as an Afro-Cuban hand-drummer, continued through stints with major Jazz players as well as 30 years teaching at Bennington College, Graves, who also practices the healing arts, has always been grounded with his home base in Queens and concerned with providing for his four children. Saying that musicians must have the training of an athlete, the research skills of a scientist and be involved with spiritual meditation, Graves has never compromised his art. Veteran of one-off gigs with the likes of pianist Cecil Taylor and composer Sun Ra, among many others, as well as a career-defining stint with tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler's group, he reveals that he turned down offers from trumpeter Miles Davis to join the latter’s band because he felt his own duo with pianist Don Pullen allowed him to better express his thinking about musical culture. Graves is no super musician though. When he works with electric guitarists he asks them to turn down their amps, and reveals that the gig with Ayler was so intense that he often had to rest between sets. (Note: Page takes some seconds to load)
Although pianist Jutta Hipp was first welcomed when she arrived in the United States in the mid-1950s and soon was playing prestigious clubs and recording for Blue Note, by 1960 she had quit the scene and spent the rest of her life working in a Queens garment factory. Aaron Gilbreath in Longreads tells her story from the perspective of the Blue Note general manager, who met the then 76-year-old Hipp in 2001 to give her a cheque for $35,000 in unpaid royalties. The reticent pianist didn’t say much about quitting Jazz except that she thought she wasn’t very good. Despite some didactic detours into more general musings on racism and sexism, Gilbreath comes up with a different interpretation of her career. An East German refugee who was celebrated in post-war West Germany, Hipp’s U.S. sojourn was facilitated by a critic who was alleged to have romantic as well as well as monetary interest in her. While accepted by players such as saxophonist Zoot Sims and bassist Charles Mingus, she was resented by xenophobes for her European background and by some musicians for her race and gender. A change in her playing style once she was established in New York, plus self-admitted stage fright and lack of confidence eventually caused her to distance herself so far from the music that her 2001 visitor noted that she didn’t even own a piano. She died two years later.
While some of the questions posed by New Music Box’s Frank J.Oteri become a little too technical when it comes the details of composing and improvising, overall this is a revealing Q+A with Bay area composer Chris Brown. Affiliated with Mills College, Brown terms himself an explorer who has moved among the nuts-and-bolts (literally) of Electronic Music, created New Music scores and improvises as well. Initially a so-called classical pianist, Brown’s interest in new modes of expression led him to study the works of John Cage and Henry Cowell, and after hearing pianist Cecil Taylor, to playing in an improvised context with musicians like keyboardist Wayne Horvitz, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and as a member of tenor saxophonist Glenn Spearman’s Double Trio. He admits he improvised in public even before he composed anything he still likes. Along the way Brown also learned to weld and solder in order to translate his idea into an electronic milieu with the band The Hub and in other contexts. Today Brown is becoming more interested in working with the song form, though that has nothing to do with the frequent telephone calls he gets at his Mills office from aspiring popsters trying to contact someone they think is actually chart-topping rapper Chris Brown.
Anytime Americans recognize there are Jazz masters beyond their borders is a good sign, and The Chicago Reader’s John Corbett uses drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo’s appearance at the Chicago Jazz Festival to discuss the outlines of the South African percussionist's career. Although he returned to Cape Town in 2005 and now tours with a young band including pianist Alexander Hawkins and saxophonist Jason Yarde, the article focuses on how the 77-year-old drummer is the last living member of South Africa’s legendary Blue Notes combo. An interracial band which fled its homeland after racial mixing become illegal, the Blue Notes' arrival in the United Kingdom in the early 1960s energized the local Jazz scene, led to the formation of Blue Notes pianist Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath big band, plus the intermingling of other band members with the likes of Free Music guitarist Derek Bailey. Now sll the others – trumpeter Mongezi Feza, McGregor, bassist Johnny Dyani and alto saxophonist Dudu Pukwana are dead, with their music only accessible on record. As good as his 2017 sound is however, Moholo-Moholo refuses to compare his present band with his earlier ones
Tenor and soprano saxophonist John Coltrane’s wardrobe choices would probably make the editor of Gentleman’s Quarterly blanch, but at least writer Zack Graham is interested enough in the non-sartorial to devote a piece to the 50th anniversary of Interstellar Space, Coltrane’s breakthrough duo LP with drummer Rashied Ali. Although Graham does devote some space to analyzing the complex musical and improvisational underpinnings of the disc, since GQ is, after all, devoted to all that is contemporary in fashion, he posits Interstellar Space in terms of its influence on Pop artists such as Pan Sonic, Kamasi Washington, Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar,
While Bandcamp Daily’s Seth Colter Walls seems to think that a Jazz soloist playing especially composed music with a string group is a new concept, interviewee, alto saxophonist Oliver Lake soon sets him straight. Still, as well as discussing the saxophonist/flutist’s recent collaboration with the FLUX Quartet, a contemporary-classical string ensemble, Walls does delve into some of Lake’s history going back to the formation of St. Louis' Black Artists’ Group (BAG) in the 1970s. Lake, who explains that he started seriously writing for strings when he regularly performed in a duo in New York alongside violinist Leroy Jenkins, says his first string writing was with BAG. His CD with FLUX includes material going back to the late 1990s. Lake also notes that BAG’s genesis came about after he and fellow St. Louis alto saxophonist Julius Hemphill were impressed when they noted how musicians like trumpeter Lester Bowie, a St. Louis expat, were becoming successful within the more formal organization of Chicago’s AACM. Lake also reveals that his and Hemphill’s most famous ensemble, the World Saxophone Quartet, was organized in 1978 after tenor saxophonist Kidd Jordan individually invited the saxophonists who would make up the WSQ to play for the first time as a quartet in New Orleans.
Although Troy Collins’ Point of Departure interview with Mark Dresser mostly deals with the bassist/composer's solo and group work over the years, the technological aspects of telematic music are an important codicil. When in 2004, Dresser moved from New York to teach at University of California San Diego, he found himself constantly traveling east to hook up with sympathetic playing partners. While he has now developed associations with local players and fellow academics like trombonist Michael Dessen, flutist Nicole Mitchell and pianist Myra Melford, advanced telematic technology also now allows him and them to play in real time with colleagues on the east coast and in Europe. Dresser, who was first invited to play advanced Jazz on the West Coast with the likes of cornetist Bobby Bradford, flutist James Newton and tenor saxophonist David Murray , by his mentor, bassist Bert Turetzky, has also maintained his bi-coastal connections that included a long stint in reedist Anthony Braxton's best-remembered quartet, plus collaborations with such potential telematic participants as hyper-pianist Denman Maroney and drummer Gerry Hemingway, who now lives in Switzerland.
Resolute in his insistence that his Natural Information Society (NIS) group has been well-received because of the sum of individual musicians’ contributions, with only his name upfront, double bass and guimbri player Joshua Abrams discusses his band configuration, ideas and influences with Bandcamp Daily’s Will Schube. Although known for his world-music and dance-trance affiliations, Abrams, who has also composed film scores, has deep roots playing Jazz, including long-time affiliations with the likes of guitarist Jeff Parker and the late tenor saxophonist/club owner Fred Anderson. So while associates like guitarist Emmett Kelly, harmonium player Lisa Alvarado and drummers Frank Rosaly and Mikel Avery are permanent members of NIS, he’s proud that tenor saxophonist Ari Brown was able to be featured on the one track of NIS' new record that honors Anderson.
Poised to release his newest album, idiosyncratic Chicago guitarist George Freeman is also constantly gigging around the US. Nice work for a 90 year old. But, as Freeman tells the Chicago Tribune’s Howard Reich, he was taking it a bit easier a couple of years ago when local drummer/club owner Mike Reed suggested he put together a band with guitarist Mike Allemana, who had played with his brother, legendary tenor saxophonist Von Freeman, until the latter’s death at 89 in 2012. The match-up clicked, and now Freeman, who is the uncle of AACM-affiliated tenor saxophonist Chico Freeman, is busier than ever. With the stamina and ideas of a much younger player, Freeman also brings to his work the experience of more than 60 years in the Jazz trenches playing with everyone from alto saxophonist Charlie Parker and tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons to organist Richard "Groove" Holmes.
Although Berlin-based Free Music Productions (FMP) stopped producing new records early in the 21st Century, owner Jost Gebers still maintained the label’s archive. As Marc Masters reports on Bandcamp Daily, this situation presented a matchless opportunity for Jeff Golick and Jeff Jackson when in 2014 they decided to reconstitute their Destination: OUT blog to digitally reissue important Free Jazz sessions. A random query to Gebers gave them access to all of FMP’s music, some of which existed only on LP. Then as the relationship developed, FMP began exclusively remastering LP titles for the Destination Out platform. This story link includes musical examples of some of the Free Music riches on the site, including a solo session by tenor saxophonist Peter Brötzmann; separate discs from Cecil Taylor’s Feel Trio and the Globe Unity Orchestra; plus a little-know FMP date by alto saxophonist Noah Howard.
At 80, composer/pianist Carla Bley is still doing what she has done since she was five years old: composing and performing music. Playing a rare fly-over state gig in Tennessee, Bley explains to The Daily Times’ Steve Wildsmith that her understanding of Jazz came about while working as a cigarette girl at New York’s first Birdland in the 1950s. Starting in the 1960s, her then-husband, pianist Paul Bley, encouraged her to compose the melodies she has heard in her head all her life, and that has been her lifework the past 50 or so years. Today, the projects may be big or small; the concerts taking place m in Europe or the US; and the ensembles used large or small. But the constant is that the shows also feature the skills of her companion of many years, bassist Steve Swallow, a respected player and composer in his own right.
Be sure to mark March 2018 on your experimental music calendar. For that’s when The Stone, John Zorn’s East Village hub for advanced music, relocates to The New School’s Glass Box Theater on New York's West 13th Street. In this roundtable with Zorn and Richard Kessler, dean of the university’s Mannes School of Music, the Village Voice’s Larry Blumenfeld finds the two amiably planning for the future. They pledge that the room will maintain its 74 seat capacity; musicians will curate the programs; and that all revenue from ticket sales will still go to the artists. It’s a logical move the two point out, since the New School has a long history of supporting non-mainstream, notated music and The Stone itself has, since 2012, been involved with presenting workshops at the school featuring musicians performing at The Stone including composer/keyboardist Terry Riley and composer/trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith.
Demonstrating that he doesn’t suffer fools gladly Cooper-Moore appears a little testy when answering questions posed by the Jazz Trail Web site. The pianist and multi-instrumentalist is pithy when describing his affiliation and the changes over the years in New York’s Vision Fest, which honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award this year and where he played with drummer Gerald Cleaver's Black Host and bassist William Parker's In Order to Survive. Explaining that he rejects label such as avant-garde or free jazz, Cooper-Moore speaks of his music as the next step and is Blues-based, a continuation of the sounds of Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk he heard in his mid-teens. Affirming that he knows exactly where he wants to go when he begins to play, the pianist affirms that life for any artist in the U.S. is tough. Surprisingly – or sardonically – he claims he doesn’t listen to music other than the music he’s creating unless it’s music he must learn; and that he’s his own favorite musician.
After 20 years in Europe tenor saxophonist David Murray has returned to the U.S. to find a changed Jazz scene, he tells Do the Math’s Paul Devlin. Besides his own quartet of younger musicians, he’s working in all-star ensembles like a trio with drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and pianist Gerri Allen as well as a revival of Clarinet Summit featuring Hamiet Bluiett, David Krakauer and Don Byron. But it’s difficult to make a living, with young musicians willing to play for hardly anything. This is a big change for Murray, who in Europe and Cuba organized big bands, regularly played large festivals, recorded prolifically and worked on educational projects. He also contrasts the situation today with the 1970s, when after growing up in California and absorbing sounds from slightly older musicians such as alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe and cornetists Butch Morris and Bobby Bradford, in New York he quickly moved from playing lofts to better-paying nightclub gigs. Murray who says a musician needs at least 10 years of experience to be proficient, and whose music is now more swing-oriented than before, also discuses how his sound has changed over the years; he’s using fewer notes, but with more authority.
Although now one of the most lauded guitarists in improvised music, Mary Halvorson tells the National Endowment for the Arts publication's Rebecca Sutton that her initial guitar interest was Rock and Jimi Hendrix. However as she continued studying the instrument, immersion in her father’s Jazz record collection gradually turned her towards more challenging music. Halvorson, who has worked with ensembles of many sizes from duos to large groups – and is now even writing lyrics for a band with a singer – cites guitarist Joe Morris and multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton as musicians who changed her musical life. It was Morris, who insisted she figure out her own way of playing, and who was responsible for her switching from being a science to becoming a music major in university. Later, Beaxton’s teaching gave her the freedom to ignore so-called mistakes and to be unafraid to try to play anything, even if she felt she was figuratively falling on her face.
Although not as well known as many members of the 1960s Free Jazz explosion, drummer Philip Wilson (1941-1992) was an important link among Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (ACCM), St. Louis’ Black Artists Group (BAG) and even Los Angeles’ Rock music scene. Pop-funk saxophonist David Sanborn – of all people – tells Do the Math’s Ethan Iverson how his friendship with the gregarious Wilson led to him becoming a professional saxophonist. Growing up in St. Louis, tyro Sanborn, through Wilson, was introduced to, and later worked with, inventive Jazz visionaries like saxophonists Oliver Lake and Julius Hemphill and trumpeter Lester Bowie, who later helped organize the World Saxophone Quartet and the Art Ensemble of Chicago respectively. Besides playing early gigs with these avant-garde pioneers, it was Sanborn’s friendship with Wilson, who was working with the Paul, Butterfield Blues Band at the time, that got the saxophonist a job with that group and led to his first recording session in L.A..
European-based, Brooklyn-born composer/keyboardist Charlemagne Palestine seems genuinely surprised that he and his music have become popular in the 21st Century, leading to collaborations with the likes of electronic manipulator Ignaz Schick, percussionist Burkhard Beins and even fellow composer/trumpeter/guitarist Rhys Chatham. However as he tells Hanna Bächer of RBMA Radio, his best-known, continuous compositions such as “Strumming”, actually have their genesis in the Jewish liturgical music he first performed as a child singer. Of course later being part of the 1960s-1970s musical gestalt centred on New York’s Bleecker Street and at Los Angeles’ CalArts, where his collaborators were as likely to be singer Tiny Tim as electronic pioneers Terry Riley and Steve Reich, helped orient his sound creations towards uniqueness as well.
Nearly 20 years after a group of London musicians decided to create their own large-scale improvising band following concerts helmed by American conduction pioneer Lawrence “Butch” Morris, the London Improvisers Orchestra (LIO) continues to flourish. In this piece written by Gerard F Tierney for the LIO’s Web site a bit of the ensembles history and changes over time is outlined. Initially guided by the likes of keyboardist Steve Beresford and reedist Evan Parker, new ideas of how to operate later came from saxophonist Caroline Kraaabel and pianist Pat Thomas, with guest performers in the person of soundsinger Jaap Blonk and trumpeter Wadda Leo Smith and others adding to the LIO’s maturity and appeal. Although the recitation of London locations may be a little hard to follower for the non-Brit, Tierney provides insight into how the orchestra continues to function, while staying true to its original goals of playing improvisations with little advance planning.