|J A Z Z W O R D R E V I E W S
|Reviews that mention Milford Graves
…and they were cool
Improvising Beings ib 16
Musician’s re-discoveries have to be viewed in a contemporary context that takes into account innovations that have arisen since the player disappeared from view, plus the necessity of determining whether the skills that created the legend in the first place have remained intact. That was the chronicle involving Jazz’s first great re-discovery, trumpeter Bunk Johnson. Returning to the scene in the early 1940s, after a 30 year absence, the resulting sides didn’t match his historic reputation until later on when he was finally united with properly sympathetic sidemen.
So too is it with the reappearance of players from 1960s New Thing. Just as Johnson needed new arrangements and new players as well as new teeth, multi-instrumentalist Giuseppi Logan, whose history from 1965 until his unearthing about five years ago included stretches of institutionalization and homelessness, demanded compassionate and creative associates to guide him to the proper context. That has finally happened with …and they were cool. Unlike his disastrous come-back CD in 2008 this set is an appropriate setting for the then 77-year-old Logan. Comparing it to More, Logan’s reissued final commercial session shows how good the new disc is, and much can be attributed to producer/guitarist Ed Pettersen.
In 1965, although already grey-bearded, Logan was barely 30 years old and part of an explosion of talent. His bands on these live and studio sessions features such future Jazz luminaries as pianist Don Pullen, drummer Milford Graves and either Reggie Johnson or Eddie Gomez on bass. From the first shattering cymbal volley on “Mantu” the tunes are taken at a go-for-broke fashion, completely related to the times. Graves, who is slightly over-recorded, exhibits the collection of trick and tropes he maintains to this day, while Pullen’s cross-pulsing and dark slippery cascades here are among the most outside work he ever did. On “Wretched Sunday”, Gomez, a year before her joined Bill Evans trio, powerfully string shakes and stops to expand on the piece’s balladic mode. Defining his solo with energy rather than expertise, Logan’s alto saxophone trills add multiphonics to an otherwise earthbound performance.
Expanded with 10 minute of previously unreleased material, that almost doubles its length, the now nearly 19½-minute “Sherbar” wraps all of the players’ then-new advances into a satisfying staccato showcase. As Graves’ raw rattles and buoyant ruffs set the pace before being involved in an (un?) intentional call-and-response duo with Johnson’s double-stopped arco bass line, Pullen’s uncompromisingly stretches and scratches the theme. Overall, the drummer particularly inventive with gong resonations and anvil-like bass drum smacks, first backing Logan’s squealing flute than his contralto bass clarinet lines as they weave in and out of the narrative.
Forty-seven years later the situation is much different. Without a drummer the rhythmic base is taken up by Larry Roland’s four-square bass playing, with the narratives strengthened with Jessica Lurie’s percussive, single-note flute playing plus Pettersen’s electronic judders. Sticking to alto saxophone, Logan plays obbligatos to all concerned, only moving front-and-centre by the CD’s mid-point. By then the quartet has reached the romantic “Trying To Decide”, with Logan’s double-tongued reed work finally getting spikier following the bassist’s downward strumming.
From then on it appears that Logan’s alto tone is as jagged as Lurie’s flute work is tonic – imagine Jean-Pierre Rampal paired with Ornette Coleman – but the situation gets dicier when both play saxophones. One might suppose that it’s the older reedist who provides the tautness and the younger the sweetness on “And Which To Avoid” especially when BeBop inferences appear in the alto solo. And it’s this track which undeniably confirms that Logan had regained his aptitude. As Roland sweeps over his strings and shifting surfaces enlighten the guitarist’s background work, a joyful and moderated exposition appears. With its forward looking stance plus echoes of Energy Music and Hard Bop, the new CD contains all the qualities needed to successfully embed a re-discovered player in the present.
Track Listing: More: 1. Mantu+ 2. Sherbar+ 3. Curve Eleven* 4. Wretched Sunday^
Personnel: More: Giuseppi Logan (alto saxophone, bass clarinet, flute and piano*); Don Pullen (piano [except*]); Reggie Johnson+ or Eddie Gomez^ (bass) and Milford Graves (drums)
Track Listing: cool: 1. Taking A Walk In The Park 2. With My Dog Sam 3. Singing The Blues 4. Trying To Decide 5. Which Path To Choose 6. And Which To Avoid.
Personnel: cool: Giuseppi Logan (alto saxophone and piano); Jessica Lurie (alto saxophone, and flute); Ed Pettersen (guitar and effects) and Larry Roland (bass)
November 23, 2013
Always in Trouble: An Oral History of ESP-Disk, the Most Outrageous Record Label in America
Jason Weiss (Wesleyan University Press)
By Ken Waxman
Visionary, charlatan, crook, naïf – these are just a few of the epitaphs applied to Bernard Stollman who founded the legendary ESP-Disk record label in the early 1960s. Interviewing Stollman and almost three dozen ESP artists, Jason Weiss tries to make sense of its history.
An attorney with aspirations towards art and entrepreneurship, Stollman made ESP a full-fledged imprint after hearing tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler. By chance he had stumbled upon a fertile jazz scene, rife with players who lacked recording opportunities. Soon ESP provided many of the era’s most important musical innovators with the freedom to record without interference. ESP jazz artists included Ayler, Burton Greene, Milford Graves, Paul Bley and Sun Ra plus rockers such as The Fugs and Pearls Before Swine.
Then problems arose. Most musicians insist they never received royalties for sessions which were subsequently licensed around the world. Some are sanguine. “If nobody was going to record you then where would you be if it wasn’t for ESP … putting you out there?” asks drummer Graves. Others are harsher. Pianist Greene: “Nobody expected anybody to get money out of the deal … [but] every time I heard he leased stuff … I said ‘What’s going on?’ He said ‘They burned me’… I said ‘Look Bernard you weren’t born yesterday.”
In essence the truth about ESP Disk and Stollman is revealed by inference. Despite the label’s and its artists’ subsequent fame, contemporary radio programmers, record stores and the general public didn’t buy in, or buy in great quantities. Plus, while Stollman loved signing new acts and releasing records, he ignored day-to-day business dealings. A first-class talent scout, by leaving the minutiae to others he was ultimately the author of his own – and the label’s – checkered reputation.
As today a resuscitated ESP-Disk repackages its past as it tries to rectify its spotted history, Weiss` volume captures its initial impact on the nascent experimental scheme in its participants own words.
--For The New York City Jazz Record April 2013
April 6, 2013
ESP-Disk ESP 1012
One of the most frustrating – and saddest – musical tales from the 1960s, a decade riff with sad and frustrated musical yarns, makes up the background of this exceptional reissued CD by pianist Lowell Davidson.
Recorded in 1965, with the trio filled out by master bassist Gary Peacock and legendary percussionist Milford Graves, this five-track session is the sum total of Davidson’s recorded work. Then doing graduate work in biochemistry at Harvard University, Davidson was recommended to ESP by Ornette Coleman himself. Unlike other shadowy figures on the label, such as Byron Allen, the pianist was never part of the New Thing scene in New York and returned to Boston after this disc was recorded. Gravely injured in a lab accident, Davidson died in 1990 at 49 and never recorded commercially again. Tapes of his playing piano and percussion (!) in Boston do exist, but have never been released.
Why does Davidson deserve to be heard, unlike some other 1960s jazz myths whose brief tenures in the big time are best forgotten? Perversely it’s because Davidson was a pianist. Completely self-contained in his improvising he was then – and probably still remains – the proverbial missing link between Herbie Nichols and Cecil Taylor. While followers of John Coltrane numbered in the quadruple digits then and have grown exponentially since then, no other keyboard player since then has followed Davidson’s lead. Yet just as Randy Weston’s ascendancy a decade previously, with a style equally influenced by Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk, had confirmed Monk’s bone fides in the jazz pantheon, then Davidson’s appearance did the same for Taylor.
With careful phrasing, an undertow of impressionistic harmonies, and a propensity for musical story-telling that advanced melodies chromatically without relying on convention, he also took Nichols’ individualism one step forward. At the same time, his eddying and churning touch and discontinuous rhythmic sense authenticated Taylor’s linkage to the jazz canon. Ironically in the subsequent decades, Taylor’s magnificent improvising would become even more highly rhythmic and staccato, frightening a new generation of musical neo-cons. But that’s another story.
As well, despite their subsequent fame Graves and Peacock stay mostly in the background throughout. In short, Davidson is pretty much the entire show on the self-penned compositions that make up the disc.
Showing the sort of restraint characterized by sul ponticello runs and thumping rhythm that would later characterize his role with Keith Jarrett’s trio, Peacock remains grounded. Graves too settles for time-keeping support. Furthermore, he’s also incredibly less showy and bombastic in his playing on this disc than he could be then, and which characterizes his contemporary sound. Even his introduction of military-style snare-drum rattling plus characteristic rolls and pops while the pianist comps on “Ad Hoc”, doesn’t detract from the trio’s overall exposition.
Cascading phrases, key clipping plus fragmenting and bonding note clusters, Davidson runs the changes while running his own race throughout Trio. Stirring and imposing in equal measures on the CD, it’s a shame that as of this moment, slightly more than 44 minutes of music are both the pianist’s personal best and entire legacy.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. “L” 2. Stately 1 3. Dunce 4. Ad Hoc 5. Strong Tears
Personnel: Lowell Davidson (piano); Gary Peacock (bass) and Milford Graves (percussion)
November 19, 2008
NEW YORK ART QUARTET
Reunions can be a chancy proposition. Whether its the Modern Jazz Quartet
getting together after 10 years or the Guess Who recombining after 20, nostalgic
expectations can often exceed reality. This can be especially serious if, unlike some rock
band reunions which occur regularly as soon as bank balances dip, combination, as on
this CD, literally bring together players who often havent seen one another for many
Sometimes the results are spectacular, oftentimes not so. And 35TH REUNION
has examples of both.
Over the years, especially on the evidence of its lone ESP-Disk from 1964, its
become increasingly clear that the New York Art Quartet (NYAQ) was the paramount
group of the New Thing. Unlike preeminent soloists like Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp or
John Coltrane, the NYAQ was a sum of its parts, with each man contributing to the
The good news about this CD is that the succeeding three decades havent
lessened the individual musical talents of any of the participants. The bad news is that
some parts of this session dont hang together, because certain parts of the equation have
got out of whack.
Poet/playwright/essayist Amiri Baraka was the fifth member of the NYAQ on
its seminal ESP release, where his reading of his poem, Black Dada Nihilismus on one
track contributed to the LPs subsequent fame. The main problem with this new disc is
that the doubled playing time from the earlier session appears to have given Baraka
license to insinuate himself onto nearly every track. This isnt so bad if you think of him
as merely adding another sound to the mix, but his poetics seem to be snared in some
1960s wayback machine.
Obviously one shouldnt ignore the past, but Baraka seems to be unaware of the
present century and appears unable to make valid points about anything since then.
Additionally merely repeating names like Trane, Ayler, John Kennedy and Rap Brown
doesnt do any more than suffuse the poems with retro hipness, rather than making a
point, while, to take another example, the repetition of pee pee, doo doo on Seek Light
At Once is more word irritation than sound poetry.
The other minor drawback here is Graves. More upfront than he was in 1964, his
drumming is still as faultless as it was then, with polyrhythms a particular standout. But
his vocal interpolations, such as the one that launches the first track, could be eliminated
Conversely, years of experience have made each NYAQer a better musician than
he was in the 1960s. Tchicai long ago abandoned his alto to play tenor saxophone with a
austere, senatorian authority; Rudds coarse, squalling tone is given a good work out on
tracks such as VGs Birthday Jamboree; and allowed the space, Workman can sound
like an entire string section by himself. Each man contributed two compositions, all of
which are uniformly interesting.
In short, this CD will probably be required listening for anyone who followed the
careers of the musicians in the 1960s and will disappoint few who concentrate on the
music. Just be warned though, that like Kramers entrances on the Seinfield TV show,
Barakas poetics will frequently pop up out of nowhere to alter the mood.
Track Listing: 1. A Meeting of Remarkable Journeys 2. Reentering 3. Llanto del Indio 4.
VGs Birthday Jamboree 5. Visiting Ogun 6. Perceiving Passerbys 7. Seek Light At
Once 8. Musics Underwear
Personnel: Roswell Rudd (trombone); John Tchicai (tenor saxophone); Reggie Workman
(bass); Milford Graves (drums); Amiri Baraka (voice)
August 4, 2000