New York Art Quartet

August 4, 2000

35th Reunion
DIW 936

Reunions can be a chancy proposition. Whether it’s 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 haven’t seen one another for many
decades. 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, it has 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 excellent whole. The good news about this CD is that the succeeding three decades haven’t lessened the individual musical talents of any of the participants. The bad news is that some parts of this session don’t hang together, because certain parts of the equation have got out of whack.

Polemecist Amiri Baraka — then LeRoi Jones –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 LP’s 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 isn’t such a drawback if you think of him merely adding another sound to the mix. But his opinionated poetics seem to be snared in some 1960s way back machine.Obviously one shouldn’t ignore the past, but Baraka seems to be unaware of the present century and appears unable to make valid societal or political points about anything that has happened since his 1960s heyday.Additionally merely repeating names like Trane, Ayler, John Kennedy and Rap Brown doesn’t do any more than suffuse the poems with retro coolness, rather than making a point. Or to take another example, the repetition of “pee pee, doo doo” on “Seek Light” is more scatalogical infantilism 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. Yet his vocal interpolations, such as the one that launches the first track, could be easily 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; Rudd’s coarse, squalling tone is given a good work out on tracks such as “VG’s Birthday Jamboree”; and given the proper space Workman can sound like an entire string section by himself. Each player also contributed two compositions, all of which are uniformly interesting.

This CD will probably be really appreciated for anyone who followed the careers of the musicians in the 1960s and afterwards, and will not disappoint anyone few who concentrates on the music. Be warned though, that like Kramer’s entrances on the Seinfield TV show, Baraka’s so-called poetics will frequently pop up out of nowhere to alter the mood projected by first class improvising.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. A Meeting of Remarkable Journeys 2. Reentering 3. Llanto del Indio 4. VG’s Birthday Jamboree 5. Visiting Ogun 6. Perceiving Passerbys 7. Seek Light At Once 8. Music’s Underwear

>Personnel: Roswell Rudd (trombone); John Tchicai (tenor saxophone); Reggie Workman
(bass); Milford Graves (drums) and Amiri Baraka (voice)