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.
Performance portraits by Susan O’Connor
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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.
The Village Voice’s Michel J. Agovino uses the fact that Brazilian tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman has released seven [!] CDs simultaneously to examine the reedist’s career, as well as praising the audacity of Leo Fagin, for whose Leo Records Perelman records. Pointing out that Perelman’s brand of no-holds-barred, unsweetened sound exploration only appeals to a minority of listeners – and is well documented, as six of the saxophonist’s CDs were released together a few months earlier – Agovino tries to situate the Brazilian within the Jazz continuum. A Bossa Nova musician playing Free Jazz is one definition he suggests. As part of the story, Agovino also mentions some of Perelman’s long-time collaborators, including pianist Matthew Shipp and bassist William Parker; and notes that in its long history Leo Records has released many other important sessions by the likes of pianists Cecil Taylor and Marilyn Crispell.
Trying to come to terms with Donald Trump’s vision of the world, The Paris Review’s Adam Shatz first investigates the recorded cynicism of poet-singer Gil Scott-Heron and then turns to the expansive artistry of pianist Franklin Kimbrough, suggesting that his newest CD with bassist Jay Anderson and the drummer Jeff Hirshfield is alive with “quiet fire”. Shatz also lets his high-brow readers know that Kimbrough ideas didn’t arise in a vacuum, but through study of the work of fellow pianists Herbie Nchols and especially Paul Bley. Bley’s adaptation of Ornette Coleman’s revolutionary ideas mixed with the incisive composition of Carla Bley and expressed on a 1972 solo disc for ECM established a new way to hear Jazz piano, a concept subsequently refined by everyone from Keith Jarrett to Kimbrough.
From his earliest days in Chicago, through his West Coast residency, to his relocation to New York in 2009, drummer Weasel Walter has become used to the D-I-Y lifestyle – organizing gigs and recording sessions, then mixing, mastering, packaging and releasing the product. He tells Jazz Right Now’s Cisco Bradley, his most recent focus is exposure for Igneity, his large-scale composition for 12 musicians, which in the past has featured soloists such as guitarist Henry Kaiser and guitarist/reedist Elliott Sharp. The most recent performance, with players like guitarist Brandon Seabrook, trombonist Steve Swell and trumpeter Jamie Branch, is an hour-long Free Jazz blow-out like the classics Machine Gun, Ascension and European Echoes. Yet Walter also says the composition is so flexible that it can be retooled to be played by five musicians in only 30 minutes.
Although it’s conceded that The Original Dixieland Jass Band (ODJB) cut the first so-called Jazz record early in 1917, 100 years haven’t diminished the band, and its cornetist Nick LaRocca’s, spurious claim to have invented Jazz. In a reasoned report on the subject, The New Orleans Advocate’s Katy Reckdahl speaks to noted historians at Tulane University as well as descendents of ODJB’s musicians, who repeat LaRocca’s shibboleths about how whites invented Jazz rather than African-Americans with more than skepticism. Eventually the mixing of so-called Black and White musics is agreed upon as the reason for Jazz’s birth, and this was reflected in subsequent post-ODJB recordings.
Jazz-R&B pianist Robert Glasper’s assertion to pianist Ethan Iverson on his Do The Math blog that one of the reasons for his music's popularity is that it vibrates women’s “musical clitoris” garnered legitimate criticism for confirming Jazz’s latent sexist, reports the NPR’s Michelle Mercer. But while additionally pointing out that Iverson’s pro-liberal/feminist stance – a claim invalidated by pianist Vijay Iyer noting that none of Iverson’s previous Do The Math interviews were with female musicians, but with 42 men – is no excuse, it seems that others were skirting the problem. Not one other woman is quoted by name with an opinion as Mercer outlines the controversy.
Actually celebrating an anniversary that isn’t some Rock milestone, Rolling Stone’s Hank Shteamer contributes an extended story on the creation of the classic Interstellar Space duo LP, record by tenor saxophonist John Coltrane and drummer Rashied Ali in 1967, but was unreleased until 1974. Shteamer talks to Impulse Record’s Ed Michel for background on the delay, and John’s son, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, for an analysis of the music, while tapping saxophonists as far apart in age as Ingrid Laubrock and Peter Brötzmann to pinpoint the session’s extended influence. Shteamer even has enough space to discuss some recorded salutes to Interstellar Space, including a recasting of the music by guitarist Nels Cline and drummer Greg Bendian; and another which extended the original concept still further, featuring tenor saxophonist Louie Belogenis and Ali himself.
Not exactly an in-depth study, but this article by WYSO’s Dave Barber casts some light on pianist Cecil Taylor’s stint teaching at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio from 1969 to 1973. Able to lecture and also rehearse with the so-called Black Music Ensemble of students and others who had followed him from other educational institutions, it was a rare opportunity for the pianist and his associates, alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons and drummer Andrew Cyrille, to have their music regularly performed by a 20 to 30 piece orchestra. In fact Taylor brought in new scores to be performed by the group every day. Funding cuts finally ended the experiment. This story is linked to an archived radio broadcast of the same piece that includes some tantalizing glimpses of Taylor improvising in a college classroom.
Besides being one of the most prominent Free Jazz saxophonists, Swede Mats Gustafsson is a fanatic LP collector, or as he calls it, a discaholic. This interview with Anton Spice for The Vinyl Factory’s Web page took place in the basement of the tenor and baritone saxophonist’s home which is filled with 2½ tonnes [!] of LPs. When not playing in his own groups or in bands led by the likes of British bassist Barry Guy, Gustafsson and fellow discaholics like American guitarists Thurston Moore and Stephen O’Malley haunt every record store they can find in any country in which they play. Although he’s been a vinyl collector since he was 12, the saxophonist reveals that his want list still includes some LPs by the likes of Swedish saxophonist Bengt Nordström, Dutch drummer Han Bennink and even a limited pressing of a disc featuring Guy and British pianist Howard Riley.
Stopping Recording? That’s what the New York-based pianist Matthew Ship, who has put out 24 albums so far this decade alone, tells the Village Voice’s Michael J. Agovino. Shipp also insists that that his most recent CD, featuring his long-time bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor Baker will be his final disc ... well, aside from “a few things” he has to do for other labels. At least Agovino speaks to other musicians and producers who cast some doubt on the pianist's statement and who note that Shipp made a similar pronouncement in 2003. After that though, discs kept being recorded and released. While its peg may be bogus or wanting, this article in the general media is comprehensive enough to situate Shipp within Jazz history, push aside the tired Ship and Cecil Taylor comparisons, and relate his playing to other advanced keyboard stylists such as Lennie Tristano, Paul Bley, Andrew Hill and even the almost forgotten Lowell Davidson.
Veteran bassist John Lindberg has devoted his musical life to discovering new and different situations. From his time as a teenage student of bassist David Izenzon and member of saxophonist Anthony Braxton's ensembles, to his founding of the seminal String Trio of New (STNY) York and membership in bands led by pianist Eric Watson, among others to times teaching at CalArts where he isn’t afraid to tell his students he doesn’t know something and works through the problems with them, “I inherently love a good challenge, of any kind,” he asserts. In this detailed interview with Point of Departure’s Troy Collins, Lindberg discusses his collaborative nature when composing notated music; his on-going playing relationship with avatars such as trumpeter Wadda Leo Smith (38 years and counting); how the STNY, initially constituted with guitarist James Emery and violinist Billy Bang introduced a new concept to improvised music; and how he’s been energized by such unexpected influences as bird songs, immersion in natural surroundings, and even a stint volunteering as an EMT driver in a rural area.
After spending more than 70 years photographing many Jazz greats, Chuck Stewart died at 89 in late January 2017. This appreciation, by WBFO-FM’s Nate Chinen and film maker Carol Friedman, fills in the details of his schooling and wide-ranging career as well as pinpointing his generosity of spirit. Stewart's avuncular nature served him well when he was creating the publicity shots and album covers that for years defined the way musicians looked to the public. Friendly with many Jazz greats, Stewart’s outstanding portraits and working shots of artists ranging from Duke Ellington to Miles Davis and from John Coltrane to Louis Armstrong, Eric Dolphy and even Billie Holiday, are cherished by many fans and record collectors. It turn out that beside his more familiar images, Stewart also left behind reams of additional photos. (A link to an audio interview with Stewart is included).