|J A Z Z W O R D R E V I E W S
|Reviews that mention John Zorn
The New York City Jazz Record Interview
By Ken Waxman
Founder in the late ‘70s of ICTUS, one of the first European artist-run labels that recorded free music, Italian-American percussionist, composer and multi-media artist Andrea Centazzo is celebrating the label 35th anniversary at The Stone this month. The festival showcases the many genres of experimental music Udine, Italy-born Centazzo, 64, has been involved with over the years. On hand will be many of his collaborators from the US and Italy. Centazzo’s musical scope is so large that some of his other musical ventures, such as composing for film, theatre and large non-jazz ensembles, could barely be mentioned in the conversation below.
The New York City Jazz Record: Since ICTUS was based for many years in Italy, then re-located to Long Beach CA when you moved there in 2006, why celebrate its 35th anniversary in New York?
Andrea Centazzo: In 2010 I had a successful duo reunion concert with John Zorn at The Stone and he invited me to bring the ICTUS celebration to New York. Besides the Stone concerts, the festival will also take place this year in Italy and LA but with different programs and at a smaller scale. From 1978 to 1980 I had a [platonic] ‘love affair’ with Zorn, playing and recording with him as part of the rising Downtown Music Scene. He was also featured in my first composition for ensemble Environment for Sextet [1978, reissued as The New York Tapes]. We didn’t see each for over 30 years due to my change of direction. But in 2009 I was invited to conduct a John Cage Concerto for piano and orchestra in New York, the same night John was performing with his group. We met and we decided to revive the collaboration. As matter of fact on April 15 we’ll play again together [with others as part of The Stone’s Marathon Improv Benefit] and more is to come.
TNYCJR: A while ago you said you preferred to be described as ‘a composer who plays percussion … but it could be a film maker composing, or as a percussionist conducting an orchestra’. Have you since settled on a definition?
AC: Professionally I was born as percussionist, actually a drummer, but I always considered myself a composer playing percussion more than a drummer/percussionist. Probably this started with my fascination for solo percussion, presenting a complete musical expression, but I had to carefully plan, structure and compose the program. Now 35 years later I still love to perform but mostly my own compositions and improvisations. Except for collective improvisation I’m not interested in playing somebody else’s music.
I have to say that the experience that changed my life was the summer jazz clinic in Wengen [Switzerland] in 1970. It’s not that I learned much in 10 days, but drummers Pierre Favre, Peter Giger and Stu Martin “discovered” me and pushed me to turn professional. I was attending the The University of Trieste and had been playing for five years but straightahead jazz with combos and big bands or in rock bands. In Wengen I had the chance to listen live to some of the most prominent jazz players of that time, I even jammed with Johnny Griffin – I was just shaking – and make friends. It was there I understood that I was born not to be an attorney like my father and grandfather but a musician. Later I studied with Pierre, who I still adore for his immense talent and originality.
When I started to compose I could barely read orchestral music but I had the urge to express myself in an organized form so I started to seriously study composition by myself. Later a couple of great Italian composers, Bussotti and Gentilucci, taught me fundamentals, but I always composed as if I was in a trance. I remember in 1982 when I got the commission for my Andrea Centazzo Mitteleuropa Orchestra for a concert celebrating 1,000 years of Udine. I started to write and I finished it without any problem with the music flooding the pages. Composing is what I like the best along with filming. I think that everything in my life depends on Karma. I didn’t plan anything, but just followed the flow of the life events. Working with video came about in the same way. In 1984 out of the blue I decided to shoot my first video, Tiara, a journey to chilhood places. Yet the video won major awards at festivals around the world and I started to do that professionally.
I moved to Los Angles in 1990 and ever since the situation has never changed. I came with an exclusive agreement as composer with Warner Chappell, but my personality, a bit of misfortune and personal problems never gave me the opportunity to score for major movies. I did small independent movies.
Wengen was the beginning of the discovery. But that was still kind of traditional jazz environment. In 1972 I started listening to more advanced jazz and improvised music recordings and quickly made the transition. At the same time I was avidly listening to Balinese and contemporary classic music. That formed my peculiar musical personality. Transitions for me were easy, but unfortunately critics and audience didn’t follow and didn’t understand, so it has been really hard making a living being an improviser one day and the next day a composer, especially when I composed operas; or one day being a video maker and the next a multi-media artist.
TNYCJR: Back in Italy in the 1970s, how did you start playing with non-Italian musicians like Evan Parker, Gunter Hampel etc.? Was it a conscious decision? And outside of Americans – or musicians living in the US – do you still play with ‘foreigners’ today?
A.C.: Music is a universal language and has nothing to do in our era with nationality. I never considered Hampel a German or Parker an Englishman, just musicians with their treasures of experiences. I’ve lived in the US for 22 years and been an American citizen for 15 years, so what kind of ‘foreigners’ I wonder? I guess that the answer is yes, I still play with ‘foreigners’ today, but in this case Italians.
TNYCJR: During the ICTUS Records festival there are going to be three tribute nights, to Derek Bailey April 6; to Colin McPhee April 10; and to Steve Lacy April 13. Can you describe what influence each had on you?
A.C.: In 1976 after having spent three yeaars playing leftish political concerts in factories, in psychiatric hospitals, in public squares with pianist Giorgio Gaslini’s quartet I went to Paris and met Steve Lacy. I consider that encounter the beginning of my second life. We did a duo tour immediately after and the year later another with the addition of bassist Kent Carter. I remember vividly the first time we had an afternoon rehearsal. Working with Gaslini, I was used to follow rigidly the rules of the sideman and read a score. So to start, since we had no scores, or knew what we were going to play, I timidly asked, ‘Steve what you want me to do?’ He looked at me and placidly said: ‘Play what you feel.’ I’ll never forgot that moment in all my career. There was when the improvising percussionist was born. From that experience I have three great ICTUS albums (121,123,131), now re-mastered. Still fresh and interesting, since Lacy music is always exciting.
Derek Bailey was also very important but the collaboration was much shorter, resulting in the Drops CD. The tribute to Derek is geared toward the fact that after him I played and recorded with the best guitar player of improvised music such as Henry Kaiser, Eugne Chadbourne, Elliott Saharp, Fred Frith, Davey Williams ... you name it, And the idea to have some of them at the Stone was appealing since improvised guitar music wouldn’t be possible today without Derek’s work.
[Canadian composer and musicologist] Colin McPhee [(1900-1964)] was the man who brought Balinese music to the West and wrote compositions inspired by it. He was also the first to transcribe complex Balinese music. Since the beginning I have been attracted by Balinese minimalism and the sound of gongs and metallophones. Of course I was not the only one, Glass, Reiley, Reich and all the so-called minimal music school came from that music. When in 2002 I had the chance to do my Sacred Shadows [a multimedia project for gamelon ensemble and video images] with Balinese musicians I was in heaven. Finally I had the opportunity to write music for the originators of my artistic musical experience. I still consider that experience one of the best of my life.
TNYCJR: How and why did you found ICTUS in 1976, and why did it cease operation in 1984? How you were able to resuscitate the label in 2006?
TNYCJR: In 1976 my-then wife Carla Lugli and I started the label to free my music from the major labels that at that time were the only ones making records. It was a crazy but exciting experience. We were, together with Incus in Great Britain, FMP in Germany and ICP in Holland, one of the first avant-garde labels owned and operated by musicians. With ICTUS I had the chance, and especially the freedom, to record with the best musicians of that genre and experiment with all kind of crazy combinations from solo to orchestra. Due to financial reasons and also to the divorce from Carla, who ran the administrative side of the label, ICTUS collapsed in 1984. Then in 2006, thanks to Cezary Lerski of Polishjazz.com who was interested in a partnership, I had the chance to get the operation running again. The new catalogue is quite impressive since I have incorporated all my recording in it in the hope of having an logical archive of all my work. Cezary left two years ago and now I’m the only one doing everything. It’s kind of difficult again But with new technologies and the Internet, it’s certainly easier than it was in the ‘80s.
TNYCJR: Does ICTUS mean anything in particular, by the way?
A.C.: It means ‘downbeat’ in Latin
TNYCJR: Will any of your notated compositions, which are represented in the ICTUS catalogue be performed at the Stone? How did you get involved with composing by the way?
A.C.: Some will be presented during my sets on April 1, 10 and 12, and the string quartet of violinists Jessica Pavone and Concetta Abate, violist Liz Meredith and cellist Janel Leppin will play more of my compositions on April 4. The involvement in composing came out of my insatiable curiosity and open mind. I never cease to try something new. For me it could be deadly boring still sitting behind the drums and playing like 45 years ago.
TNYCJR: On April 7 you’ll present two sets by the 12-piece Italian Invasion Orchestra made up of top American and Italian players. Is this ad-hoc group a hommage to your Mitteleuropa Orchestra, which existed from 1980 to 1984?
A.C.: The Italian Invasion Orchestra is evidently an homage to my Andrea Centazzo Mitteleuropa Orchestra, but I doubt that we’ll have time to rehearse many of my compositions due to the Stone’s structure and program. But I’ll certainly pull out some easy pieces I played with the first band and we’ll improvise around them. I founded the orchestra in 1980 when the 15-piece ensemble was commissioned by the Cultural Affairs department of the city of Bologna to give a series of concerts. It lived four years, playing all over Italy and Austria. It was the first Italian ensemble of that kind and together with the Globe Unity Orchestra the only ones in Europe playing that kind of music. Great international improvisers along with young musicians were involved in it, including musicians who later became famous in Italy, such as saxophonists Roberto Ottaviano, Carlo Actis Dato, Gianlugi Trovesi and trumpeter Guido Mazzon as well as European and US players like violinist Carlos Zingaro, trumpeter Franz Koglmann, trombonist Radu Malfatti, bassist Mark Dresser etc. I love this definition of Mitteleuropa: ‘... Sort of like Braxton meets Xenakis meets Zappa’.
TNYCJR: Many of ICTUS’ newest CDs have you playing with experimental musicians such as Joe Giardullo [at the Stone April 1 and 14], Dave Ballou [at the Stone April 7 and 14] and Nobu Stowe, with whom you hadn’t worked with before. How did these associations come about and will they continue?
A.C.: In 2006 I had a call from pianist Nobu Stowe, a fan of my music, asking for collaboration. He organized a small East Coast tour with Perry Robinson and that was the occasion for my return to the improvised music scene. I’m really grateful to Nobu since he was the one who again started my career in this music. When that happened people started to say ‘Wow this guy isn’t dead. He’s still around. Well, let’s see if he can still hold his mallets…’ And all came along again.
TNYCJR: What about your experiments with so-called ethnic and especially so-called New Age music? How do you feel about being classified as a pioneering ‘New Age’ musician?
A.C.: I never asked for that label. But I still don’t know how to classify my music. I’ve made so many changes over the years, but I think that I still retain my own personality in all my experiments. I suspect that the Cetacea Project in 1990, a concert for ensemble and video images designed to sensitize people about the potential extinction of marine mammals in the Mediterranean, may be the origin for that ‘New Age’ label. But the music is certainly not ‘incense New Age’ background music. Actually Actis Dato has a couple of solos blowing like crazy on it.
TNYCJR: You also do multi-media work using video etc. It would appear that the Stone’s small space precludes any similar undertaking. Does that disappoint you?
A.C.: In the Tribute to Colin McPhee I have in the program Mandala, inspired by the Buddhist Universe, a solo multimedia work that combines percussion, digital percussion and computer sequencing with videos. Most of the solo concerts I’m playing now are based on a digital percussion Keyboard Kat mallet connected to an Apple Mac and I do looping and live playing. It seems that the Stone has a screen, but I’m still looking for a projector. If I find it I’ll probably perform the show. Certainly it’s not the perfect environment for such a project.
TNYCJR: Finally, as someone with a PhD in Ancient Music from the University of Bologna who has done educational work over the years, have you ever yearned to do more teaching?
A.C.: Actually at one point I was looking for an academic position. But it seems that in the US nobody really cares for me doing that, even with a PhD. I never had a fixed teaching job, but I always did it randomly in seminars, workshops and lectures. I still do so when somebody asks. Recently though the University of Bologna, which is the oldest in the world, instituted a Fondo Centazzo as a section of the performing arts library dedicated to me, where all my works, books, articles, media and my consistent collection of musical books are organically preserved for student studies. So yes, it’s kind of funny that I have no academic position
--For New York City Jazz Record April 2012
April 6, 2012
John Zorn/George Lewis/Bill Frisell
More News For Lulu
Marilyn Crispell David Rothenberg
One Dark Night I Left My Silent House
Chris Brown/Pauline Oliveros
Music in the Air
Deep Listening DL 43-2010
Marina Rosenfeld/George Lewis
Guelph Jazz Festival Highlights
By Ken Waxman
Characteristically adventurous, the 17th annual Guelph Jazz Festival (GJF) September 8 to 12 presents respected sound explorers in novel musical situations.
Probably the most notable GJF visitor this year is American trombonist/composer George Lewis. On September 11 he’s part of a trio pianist Muhal Richard Abrams and multi-reedist Roscoe Mitchell on a double bill at the River Run Centre with the Sangam ensemble. Additionally throughout the festival, the MacDonald-Stewart Arts Centre hosts Ikons, which integrates computer software, created by Lewis, with Eric Metcalfe’s sculpture that reflect visitors’ movements. Sour Mash Innova 228, with Lewis and sound designer Marina Rosenfeld on dueling laptops, is an example of Lewis’ software programming, while More News For Lulu hatOLOGY 655, exhibits his trombone skill with guitarist Bill Frisell and alto saxophonist John Zorn.
Similar to Ikons, Sour Mash’s looped textures alter each time the composition is performed. On this version there’s no separation between the two creators’ input(s). Interspaced with episodes of sampled footfalls, mumbling voices and slide-whistle-like vibrations, the piece’s focus is on the sonic contrasts produced as both programs evolve simultaneously and languidly. Simmering and shimmying, buzzing sequences, blurry crackles and speedy whooshes share space with wind-chime-like pealing, watery bubbling and abrasive rustles. Defined with flanges and granulation, the processes evolve so that linkage is apparent, but with enough unexpected pauses, drones and beeps to keep the ever-shifting texture fascinating.
Equally fascinating is More News For Lulu. Here the trio provides an explicitly POMO take on 14 Hard Bop classics. Kenny Dorham’s Lotus Blossom for instance is reconstituted as Frissell’s gentle picking finally succumbs to the pressure from Zorn’s screeching altissimo runs and tongue slaps to introduce guitar neck-hand-tapping and amplifier buzzes. Meanwhile Lewis concentrates on a tremolo retelling of the head, which is eventually recapped by all three. Similarly Hank Mobley’s Peckin’ Time evolves in triple counterpoint with the saxophonist’s agitated lines mated with the trombonist’s moderato vibrations while the guitarist’s steady chording propels the narrative. Lewis’ strategy on other tunes such as John Patton’s Minor Swing consists of providing a huffing contrapuntal ostinato over which Zorn’s screeches thrust intensely. Braying upwards the trombonist eventually corner Frissell’s double-timed licks and the saxophonist’s split tones so that all three lines converge.
The pianism missing from this CD is present on One Dark Night I Left My Silent House ECM 2089 which matches pianist Marilyn Crispell with clarinetist David Rothenberg. Crispell plays solo in Cooperators Hall September 11. Here she tries various sonic strategies to partner Rothenberg, a philosopher/naturalist interested in bird songs. While no tone is wholeheartedly onomatopoeic, aviary allusions abound. On Still Life with Woodpeckers for example, Crispell strokes the piano’s inner strings and hits the instrument’s backboard and bottom frame with percussive taps as the clarinetist flutter tongues and chirps daintily. In contrast, on The Hawk and the Mouse, she sweeps across, plucks and strikes the strings as Rothenberg circles her cadences with growling obbligatos, snorts, honks and tongue slaps. Committed for the most part to parallel improvising, the two emphasize tonal connections. That’s why the moderato and andante Evocation references Impressionism, with the low-pitched reed line and the low-key octave patterning create what could be a neo-classical étude.
A so-called classical composer of the electro-acoustic variety, accordionist Pauline Oliveros plays twice at the GJF. On September 8, in Rozanski Hall, she and trio of Guelph musicians perform simultaneously via a telematic link with other improvisers in Bogotá, Colombia and Troy, N.Y. Then on September 11 at a yoga centre, Oliveros’ accordion timbres are transformed by using Expanded Instrument System (EIS) computer software. Examples of both her musical cooperation and programming skills show up on Music in the Air Deep Listening DL 43-2010. Here EIS and signal processing mutate the sounds from Oliveros’ conch shell, percussion and accordion plus Chris Brown’s piano. Recorded in real-time without overdubs, tracks such as Trohosphere demonstrate how granular synthesis comments on and alters the piano’s speedy glissandi plus slippery accordion smears. Spread across the audio surface, processed signals contrapuntally change the piano’s dynamics as well as adjust accordion timbres to staccato and dissonant. When auxiliary bellow pumps enter the mix alongside a flat-line conch drone, Brown almost replicates a formal composition, so intent is he on maintaining harmonic patterns without raising the volume. With the modifications sometimes depicting variants of previously sampled timbres, sharp string slaps and key pumps provide live tonal additions. Eventually the dense interface is resolved as quivering voltage ramps slide downwards, introducing octave jumps and pressure from both keyboards.
-- For Whole Note Vol. 16 #1
September 3, 2010
John Zorn Tradition and Transgression
By John Brackett
Indiana University Press
Analytical and selective, rather than critical or narrative, this volume attempts to map connective themes in John Zorn’s collective works. John Brackett, a University of Utah music professor, describes Zorn’s oeuvre as alternatively relating to tradition, transgression, or the tradition of transgression.
Some of Brackett’s insights are both accurate and provocative. All the same, this volume has several limitations. Tradition and Transgression focuses on only four works: the brutal graphic imagery which illustrates Naked City’s Torture Garden and Leng Tch’e; the currents of so-called “magick” and mysticism expressed in “Necronomicon” and IAO: Music in Sacred Light; Zorn’s musical homage to artists, such as “In the Very Eye of Night” (for film-maker Maya Deren) and “Untitled” (for sculptor Joseph Cornell); and his links to so-called serious music in scores such as Aporias.
After defining Zorn’s work as a total package, so that booklet images depicting torture, violence and S&M on Naked City CDs can’t be divorced from the music, Brackett states: “Zorn’s music …attempts to transgress the boundaries between what is …understood as discursively acceptable, irrational and logical … and what is considered irrational, unacceptable and outside of such formations,” indicating that the music and imagery together can have several meanings, depending on listeners’ interpretations.
Brackett elucidation of how the composer incorporates influences from the mystical numbers embedded in the “magick” treatises of Satanist Aleister Crowley and Kabblaistic texts is equally fascinating, if exhausting. Transcribing in miniscule detail tracks on the CDs, Brackett analyzes not only compositional strategies, bar lines, and pitches but also the space between the tracks for symbolic relationship to such occult numbers as “666”, “13” or “15”. “Zorn is interested in recovering those traditions that have … been marginalized”, he writes. The composer’s interest in so-called magick “represents an affinity for ‘traditions of (heterogeneous) transgression’.” Zorn’s transgressions thus put him in a tradition of other transgressive avant-gardists.
Brackett’s thesis about Zorn’s location in the tradition of transgression is amplified when discussing the saxophonist’s dedications. He postulates that Zorn’s work is only one point in a “continuous spiral of giving and receiving”, when the composer honors not just the dedicatees, but the influences of those artists who influenced them. “Artistic inheritance is not a burden that must be borne by later artists but is something to be celebrated and continually investigated in the creation of new works.”
This subsuming and manipulating of influences become more controversial with Brackett’s insistence on the co-relation between Zorn’s Aporias and .Igor Stravinsky’s Requiem Canticles. As comparative lists, copies of Zorn’s handwritten score, extensive musical transcriptions and analysis, plus discursions into the work of painters, film theorists and writers alluded to in the composition begin to multiply, the non-specialist may find himself holding on to the argument’s thread for dear life. Zorn’s title, Brackett writes could be “an attempt …to conceal not only [its] … immediate panegyric nature … but also … Zorn’s attempt to situate himself within a certain artistic tradition … Zorn is able to place this work within his overall poetics of music and his …concerns for not only a sense of tradition, but also the insights afforded by … composing within certain…transgressive spaces.”
Brackett states his book “should try to capture the experience of listening to Zorn’s music”. If you’re someone who listens to music while timing it with a stop watch plus consulting a shelf full of scholarly volumes, mining the author’s thesis may reveal concepts that demand reflection and interpretation.
-- Ken Waxman
-- MusicWorks Issue #104
August 8, 2009
Variations on a Theme
Guelph Jazz Festival Musicians On Their Own
Barry Guy/Mats Gustafsson/Raymond Strid
Cloudy Then Sunny
Libra Records 203-019
News For Lulu
The Chicago Project
Central Control CC1006PR
Wadada Leo Smith’s Golden Quartet
Cuneiform Rune 270
Healthy in its adolescence, the Guelph Jazz Festival (GJF) has become Ontario’s pre-eminent festival for improvised music. Now in its 15th year, the GJF presents improvisers in concerts, workshop and symposia. An appealing factor for listeners is that GJF concerts highlight only one of the versatile musicians’ many activities. Recent CDs capture other aspects.
Take British bassist Barry Guy, at Guelph with violinist Maya Homburger and bass clarinetist Jeff Reilly. Except for Guy’s string prestidigitation, that chamber-improv is nearly the opposite of the go-for-broke Energy Music on Barry Guy/Mats Gustafsson/Raymond Strid, Tarfala Maya MCD0801. Two high-octane Swedish players, saxophonist Gustafsson and percussionist Raymond Strid complete the band.
Spewing accentuated timbres, Gustafsson’s cries and snorts demand muscular retorts from the bassist. On the title track Guy uses guitar-like arpeggios to match the saxophonist’s echoing split tones, wrapping the friction of individual string pressure into a contrapuntal response. Strid’s rim shots and rattling snares provide the rhythmic glue. Eventually Guy’s harsh twanging plus abrasive sawing at strings near the scroll move the saxophonist’s smears, flattement and flutter-tonguing into contrapuntal counterpoint.
Chromatic bass thumps and conga-like pops from the percussionist push Gustaffson’s extended glossolalia from discursive to convergent on “Icefall”. Guy’s ostinato underpinning and Strid’s pats and pumps neutralize Gustafsson’s honks and tongue slaps into a diminuendo conclusion.
Resolving the clash between rough and gentle voicing, staccato and legato pitches also characterize Junk Box’s Cloudy Then Sunny Libra Records 203-019. Two members of the trio, Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura play the GJF. A composer-arranger, Fujii explores new territory on this CD, using graphic notation to spur the improvisations. Junk Box’s third member is American drummer John Hollenbeck, capable of rhythmic interaction ranging from rattles and pumps from tam-tams and marimba to full military press rolls and bass drum thwacks.
On “One Equation”, Tamura uses split tones and triplets to create a call-and-response section all by himself, as Fujii plays the tremolo melody in tandem. “Opera by Rats” emphasizes piano pedal action as the theme shifts from Bop to Stride, while the trumpet brays and Hollenbeck snaps cymbals and pops snares. This popping serves as a coda to “Back and Forth”, which also describes the trio’s tonal connection. Tamura’s timbre is French horn-like as he echoes Fujii’s phrases, and the track concludes with cascading piano chords draping themselves over the others’ note clusters.
There a similar interchange among alto saxophonist John Zorn, trombonist George Lewis and guitarist Bill Frisell on News For Lulu hatOLOGY 650. This 1987 reissue is different, yet somewhat similar to the three sets of Radical Jewish Culture Zorn is presenting at GJF this year. Rather then re-interpreting and re-conceptualizing Jewish melodies, Lulu does the same for Hard-Bop classics. Yet as devotional or freylach-like ditties are transformed with percussion, electronics and electric guitars by Zorn at GJF, this CD performs a similar conversion as raucous blowing vehicles become recital-ready.
Both the guitarist and trombonist – who have performed at Guelph – are responsive enough to keep things moving, despite the lack of a rhythm section. Surprisingly, it’s often Lewis’ gutbucket braying which holds the pieces together from the bottom. “Venita’s Dance”, has the trombonist comping as the guitarist loops licks that turn to single-note filigree. Later Zorn steadily peeps and Lewis chromatically exposes the head. “Funk in Deep Freeze” isn’t funky, but instead finds Frisell distorting country-styled licks, Lewis roughening his tone and Zorn’s alto texture slinky and airy.
“Sonny’s Crib” plays up gospel inflections with the two horns passing on the theme like relay runners. Zorn double times, Lewis plays rubato variations and Frisell picks out blues tonality until the introduction is recapped by the altoist. “Melody for C” with conclusive organ-like reverb from Frisell, provides an opportunity for three-part harmony, with the trio’s improvisations divided into fuzzy multiphonics.
Matana Roberts also twists the jazz tradition, but less radically. The alto saxophonist, who brings her Coin Coin Continuum to the GJF, celebrates her own home town on The Chicago Project Central Control CC1006PR. Other Chicagoans contribute: drummer Frank Rosaly, bassist Josh Abrams, guitarist Jeff Parker – whose band Tortoise is at Guelph this year – and veteran tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson. In 2002 Anderson, played an incendiary GJF set with Kidd Jordan. Saxophonist Jordan (see Whole Note Vol. 13 #9) plays Guelph again this year.
In the same league as the Jordan-Anderson meeting, Roberts a capella duet with Anderson features swirling staccato lines intersecting contrapuntally – finally reaching rapprochement. On “Nomra”, she and Parker prove that free improvising can be low-key and supple, highlighting resonating guitar licks and tasteful saxophone arpeggios. Tunes are tougher elsewhere. “Exchange”, built on a walking bass line and the drummer’s repeated flams showcases Parker’s distorted flanges and bottleneck-sharp runs that contrast with Roberts’ fruity tone and slide-slipping vibrato. “Thrills” is a POMO blues with the saxophonist rooster-crowing and double-tonguing, Parker snapping delayed echo and Rosaly smacking the backbeat.
Pianist Vijay Iyer produced The Chicago Project and he’s at GJF 2008 with DJ Spooky. But it’s electric piano and synthesizer he brings to trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith’s Golden Quartet CD Tabligh Cuneiform Rune 270. Drummer Shannon Jackson and bassist John Lindberg are equally “Golden”.
Atmospherically referencing Fusion, but with simplistic beats leeched out, the disc’s color comes from Iyer’s Fender Rhodes pulsations. Strumming cadenzas backed with swaggering synthesizer drones, Iyer lets Jackson’s solid ruffs and Lindberg’s four-square rhythm anchor the compositions. On top of this ever-shifting bottom, Smith arches long-lined slurs and unhurried grace notes. Replicating a bugler’s tattoo, on “Rosa Parks”, or a bellicose call-to-arms on “DeJohnette”, the trumpet’s lines encompass high-pitched brassy trills and sputtering Bronx cheers. Extended essays in improvisations, Tabligh’s tunes bond fragmented brass slurs, cross-handed rim shots, kinetic piano cadences and string scratches into throbbing instant compositions.
Instant composition describes the music of Holland’s Instant Composers Pool (ICP), in residence at the GJF this year. But the creative ferment generated by the band is equally expressed when ICP band members work in smaller groupings. One is AMMÜ Quartet’s AMMÜ Quartet PAO 50030. Raucous drummer Han Bennink – with the band for 35 years – and unflappable violinist Mary Oliver – a 10-year ICP veteran – join forces with Munich-based cellist Johanna Varner and trombonist Christopher Varner. The Varners produce the sort of timbres Oliver and Bennink hear in the ICP from trombonist Wolter Wierbos and cellist Tristan Honsinger.
Never one to play presto when he can play staccatissimo, or pianissimo when fortissimo can be sounded, Bennink continually clinks, clanks, bangs, whacks and thwacks. So it’s instructive to hear his duets with the trombonist. Varner ejaculates speedy, emphasized brays, moving from vocalized syllables to tongue stops and alp-horn-like flutters. Amazingly this results in textures that fit hand-in-glove – or mute-in-bell –with the drummer’s bomb-dropping bangs and cymbal crashes. On their duet Oliver squeaks and spatters sul ponticello as the cellist responds with strums and shuffle bowing.
This comfortable creativity amplifies when the four play together. On “Improvisation II”, the trombone’s contrapuntal buzzes and the violin’s spiccato runs chase one another as the cellist double-stops and Bennink jabs and rebounds. As the strings distort into double counterpoint, the trombonist puts aside distended subterranean timbres for dog-whistle shrilling. Other times the drummer’s kettle-drum-like resonation faces legato coloration from the cello; alternately, wide, chromatic notes from the trombonist complement string-stropping from Oliver. Stop-time and polytonality characterize “Ammü”, although pitch clusters from the strings and horn can’t overcome Bennink’s frenetic time-keeping.
GJF audiences, exhilarated by what they hear live can be equally impressed by these CDs.
-- Ken Waxman
-- For Whole Note Vol. 14 #2
October 8, 2008
RAPHE MALIK QUARTET
Last Set: Live at the 1369 Jazz Club
Boxholder BXH 042
BRÖTZMANN CLARINET PROJECT
Atavistic Unheard Music Series UMS/ALP 246CD
Getting an understanding of the situation for committed free improvisers in Europe as opposed to the United States in the mid-1980s is pretty obvious when listening to these two live CDs, recorded about two months apart, both of which happen to have William Parker in the bass chair.
In early November 1984, German reedist Peter Brötzmann put together an international, all-star, 11-piece Clarinet Project for a special concert in a Berlin theatre as part of that citys Jazzfest. Beside himself the clarinetists were Tony Coe from England, Louis Sclavis from France, East German Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky and J. D. Parran and John Zorn from the U.S. But thats not all. The ensemble also included Japanese trumpeter Toshinori Kondo, East German Johannes Bauer and Briton Alan Tomlinson on trombones, with British drummer Tony Oxley supplying the bottom along with Parker. By all accounts the one lengthy piece was welcomed by the audience.
Across the ocean in Boston, hometown boy trumpeter Raphe Malik was doing a series of local club dates with a trio filled out by Parker and drummer Syd Smart. This CD, recorded at Cambridges 1369 Jazz Club, is particularly notable, since the trio was joined by pioneering New Thing tenor saxophonist Frank Wright in his only Boston-area gig. A long-time expatriate and Paris resident, Wright died in 1990. Here too the audience is enthusiastic, but you get the feeling that for most Bostonians -- heck, Americans -- this performance could be dismissed as just another club date by players too stubborn to adopt the fashionable fusion or neo-con styles of the time.
Unsurprisingly -- for pertinent pure improv is about a lot more than in-the-moment fashion and audience accessibility -- both performances feature considerable musical values that recommend them.
Take LAST SET for instance. Undeterred by the fact that this was just another club date, Malik, Wright, Parker and Smart give their all. Maybe they didnt know how to improvise any other way. Wright especially is so caught in the moment that when hes not forcing out emotional reed riffs he vocalizes quasi-verbal exhortations during the others solos.
This mostly tales place on Companions #2, the almost 30-minute centrepiece of the disc. Performed hell-bent-for-leather, it shows that neither front-line partner had lost any efficacy from his so-called 1960s (Wright) or 1970s (Malik) prominence.
From the beginning, Wright slurs and slides and growls and overblows, putting R&B-flavored mid-range vibrated snorts and deeper-pitched honks into his solo. As he mutates variations of the blaring theme, he masticates sounds from the lowest section of his horns bow up to the cork attached to his mouthpiece. Maliks broken octave accompaniment converges with rapid, spiky triplets and sprightly hide-and-seek timbres.
As the trumpeter solos, Wright, caught up in the moment, begins a weird sort of Free Jazz style vocalizing filled with mumbled asides, Bronx cheers and lip trumpet action. Behind him Parkers speedy arco line reaches a sul ponticello crescendo, while Smart, who labors as a public school teacher as well as playing as a valued local musician, uses his bass drum and sock cymbal to resonate heavy nerve beats and drum paradiddles.
One climax is reached as Malik spews machine-gun style triplets that are soon joined by Wrights irregularly voiced tenor. As the saxmans mid-tempo variations on the theme turn to variations on variations -- featuring only a few R&B snorts -- Malik come up with a separate, but complementary theme of sweet, high-pitched grace notes and some bugle-call intimations. Swaying spiccato from the bassist slow the tune down for the finale with splattered triplets from Malik serving as the coda.
Featuring heraldic trumpeting from Malik, double-tongued fanfares and the odd satisfied grunt from Wright, Sad C, the first track, is more of the same. However, Chaser the final number is an exercise in freebop, which judging from its title, may be a contrafact, with a new head superimposed upon the existing set of changes from Monks Straight, No Chaser.
Wrights influences are blusier than bop, however, and his slurred pitch and wide vibrato encourages Malik to sound plunger-focused theme variations as Parker walks and Smart plays a shuffle. Ever heard finger-popping Free Jazz? Here is it in volume. Soon the reedist is snorting raucous riffs over and over again as Malik shrills rubato broken chords in tandem with him. Pedal point chortles and bubbling colored air confirm that the band is still in free territory, but the audience reacts as if it was in attendance at a James Brown performance.
With three times the brass capability and six times the reed power, Brötzmann and companys polyphony has much more volume but about the same amount of energy as Maliks quartet on its single almost 50-minute piece. Strangely for a clarinet showcase, the CD begins with a Scottish bagpipe-type air from Brötzmanns tarogoto thats quickly joined by the wavering pitch of the other reeds, including Sclavis wiggling bass clarinet.
Using tongue slaps for emphasis, the themes first development leaves the rhythm section to cleave to the bottom as the horns increase the volume while spurting squeaks and trills. One quarter of the way through, the brass finally asserts itself, with elephant-like trumpeting plus hippo-like snorts and snores from the trombone. Cutting through the responding reed pitches are oddball, vocalized static and whistles, probably courtesy of Zorns clarinet mouthpieces. Playing entire passages in ear-splitting altissimo, he alternates harsh raspberries, duck-like quacks and plush toy squeaky timbres. Oxleys anvil-like bass drum blows and clip-clop cymbal tempos keep things on an even keel until a parlando trombone solo, possibly from Bauer, rouses the audiences applause.
As Parkers strums and Oxleys rhythmic power reins in the jagged peaks and valleys of the horn lines, one sibilant romantic tone supersedes the others. Probably from the clarinet of Coe, whose experience encompasses studio and commercial big band work as well as freer episodes, it provides a moderating influence on the contrapuntal discord around him that starts to resemble ornithological mealtime. With the muted bones supplying rubato counterpoint, the reeds form quivering accordion-like harmonies leading to a finale of sky-high honks and twitters.
The bassists screechy sul ponticello lines and the drummers irregular patterning on cow bell, wood block and ride cymbal seem merely an afterthought or solo reward for yeoman accompaniment service. Recapitulating the beginning, Brötzmann reintroduces the tarogato and attempts, on pure lung power, to go one-on-one with Oxley. Percussion strength barely triumphs, but only because a posse of other reeds joins in for a postlude of polytonal split tones.
A singular experience BERLIN DJUNGLE produces some memorable textures and must be admired for Bötzmanns decision to broaden his compositional range. Yet LAST SET also proves that plenty of good music was also being produced far from the spotlight, and which -- like this session -- has only been preserved by happenstance.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Berlin: 1. What A Day First Part 2. What A Day Second Part
Personnel: Berlin: Toshinori Kondo (trumpet); Johannes Bauer and Alan Tomlinson (trombones); Peter Brötzmann (clarinet, tenor saxophone and tarogato); Tony Coe, Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky, J. D. Parran (clarinets); Louis Sclavis (clarinet and bass clarinet); John Zorn (clarinet and mouthpieces); William Parker (bass); Tony Oxley (drums)
Track Listing: Last 1. Sad C 2. Companions #2 3. Chaser
Personnel: Last: Raphe Malik (trumpet); Frank Wright (tenor saxophone and voice); William Parker (bass); Syd Smart (drums)
February 28, 2005