Intakes #1 – Jazz here and there/was, is and will be?

Text by Steve Dalachinsky

“You have to learn all those notes and scales…that’s a beautiful foundation but then you have to spend a lifetime finding out what to leave out” Percy Heath

So dear reader it’s that time of year again and here I am suffering in gay Paree while you’re over there in New York having a wonderful winter sippin’ your lattes and I hope, doing more than just reading this article. What am I doing here you may ask? Simple, I was fortunate enough to be included in a tribute honoring the legendary Albert Ayler. The event takes place at the Cartier Foundation and includes such giants as Joe McPhee, John Tchicai, Evan Parker, Archie Shepp, Barre Phillips and Joelle Leandre.

While here I’ll have the good fortune of doing the odd gig and will participate in a lecture with Matthew Shipp. I’ll also be checking out the Sons d’hiver Festival which runs from mid-January through late February. This long-standing festival brings music to many of the outlying areas surrounding Paris, and Shipp, Marilyn Crispell, Joelle Leandre, Roy Campbell, Louis Sclavis and a host of others will participate.

Another superb adventure is a four-day celebration for Marge/Futura, the long standing independent Paris label which takes place at Paris’ Sunset Club featuring McPhee, Tchicai, Hal Singer, Bobby Few and Evan Parker.

Before leaving New York I caught two gigs at the Jazz Standard which centered around CD releases. The first was the return of Bunky Green and Rudresh Mahanthappa to the Jazz Standard to celebrate their new CD Apex on Pi Recordings. Again the group, which boasts newly appointed Mc Arthur winner Jason Moran, completely filled me up (not to mention the barbecue) and Green’s compressed solos never got tiring. The CD includes Jack DeJohnette as well as their regular drummer Damion Reid. The second, Michael Formanek led a quartet celebrating his new CD The Rub and the Square on ECM. Great performances were turned in by Tim Berne, Craig Taborn and Gerald Cleaver.

Speaking of Taborn, one of the most disappointing concerts of the year was the solo/duo concert of Taborn and Vijay Ayer at The Miller Theater. A real sleeper.

Rhys Chatham returned to the Apple in performance with videographer Angie Eng, who like Chatham now lives in Paris. They did two nights at the Kitchen where he was musical director back when the Kitchen was down in Soho. My favorites were Chatham’s extended trumpet work on Matador’s Spin and Eng’s live video on Bacchus in Vegas.

Later that week at the Abrons Art Center, Chatham, Karole Armitage and James Nares (a film maker who played with the Contortions) discussed their work and how, back in the 70’s, Punk strongly influenced them, quite evident in the Armitage/Chatham piece Drastic-Classicism, excerpted as was Watteau Duets for this performance. Confession; I went mainly to hear the talk and primarily to see my pals Talibam! who were the principal musicians. There was a lot said about the banding together of the arts back then and how low rents and no pressure allowed for more creativity with no thought of that now dirty word career (ha). It focused on the punk and No-Wave scenes of CBGB’s and Max’s and how Soho and the lower east side were Meccas except for the fact that in the lower east side one had to take one’s life into one’s own hands. They went on and on about how unsafe and dark everything was.

Frankly that period as with the recently revived Judson Church period which resuscitated some giants of that era for a concert at the church and which provided some startlingly revelatory moments for me such as 76-year-old Yvonne Rainer’s take on herself as an aging dancer, and includes an exhibit on view at the Fales Library, were two parts of downtown history that the wife and I slept through or were too busy going to Pollock retrospectives, Soho galleries or places like Niether/Nor Gallery and the Gas Station to check out free jazz gigs, always stepping over bodies and bypassing the junkies and clean needle swaps on 2nd Street.

I have to admit that it was pretty desolate back then and as Armitage pointed out, a car was set on fire almost every night. And though I disagree with Chatham’s statement that while on the subway one had to watch his back in fear that he might get cracked over the head with a bat by a crack-head I did know folks such as my dear departed friend and artist Buster Cleveland who was actually mugged one night walking down Houston Street and flautist Robert Dick who told me that he once had a crack-head point a gun in his face and that he always thought about “career” because he thought about feeding himself and that the two kind of went hand in hand. Ah such were the “glory days”.

Another reason Chatham was in town was to celebrate the release of last year’s 200 guitar piece The Crimson Grail on Nonesuch. Also look for Rhys in February. He’ll be back in New York for further adventures. And Armitage will do two weeks at the Joyce in April.

Other important recent events included Jazzwerkstatt Festival sponsored by the Goethe Institut which ran for four days at the end of November and included Perry Robinson, Gunther “Baby” Sommer, Rolf Kuhn and Ulrich Gumpert. Most of which took place at the Irondale Center in Brooklyn.

Best picks in new books on the subject: Randy Weston’s autobiography African Rhythms and the poignant, telling memoir Love Notes and Love Lines, My Life with Joe Maneri by Sonja Maneri. 

Musical moments in a film were the Fado songs used in Eugene Green’s The Portuguese Nun that ran for a week at Anthology.

[A fun CD that recently appeared on the Fat Possum label by Sonny and the Sunsets titled Tomorrow is Alright features a tune penned by the Rail’s own Jim Long. There have also been some monumental reissues on ESP including the complete Sun Ra Helliocentric Worlds and Charles Tyler’s Eastern Man Alone as well as a new effort by guitarist Joe Morris called Camera. Joe also has a powerful new CD out on his own Riti Records titled MVP LSD which is a tribute to pianist/composer Lowell Davidson whose only leader record oddly enough was on ESP. Rogue Art has a new trio CD by Taylor Ho Bynum.]

For those of you lower Manhattan music buffs who, like me, are tired of schlepping out to Brooklyn to hear good music, the University of the Streets on East 7th and Avenue A, which has been serving the community since 1969, has begun new programming modeled after the Stone. From October onward there has been a monthly curator’s series featuring some of the best names on the downtown, new music and improv scene. The first two months were put together by Wayne Horvitz and Matana Roberts.

In late October Leo Smith’s Golden Quartet played a free concert at the Grand Army Plaza Public Library. The drums were too loud and the composition possibly a bit strained but Smith’s tone, warmth, intelligence and choice of notes won out. This concert was followed approximately a month later by Smith leading a big band at Muhal Richard Abrams AACM series midtown. The range and depth of colors Smith and the orchestra employed made it one of the highlights of 2010.

Billy Bang helped end the year by presenting a quartet at the Rubin Museum and a trio at Roulette displaying his strength and virtuosity as both composer and performer and making terrific strides while enduring his uphill struggle with health issues.

Happy 200th to Chopin and Schumann, there have been celebrations all over the city including the Bialystok Puppet Theatre of Poland’s 45-60-minute fantasy/biography of Chopin done with marionettes at La Mama revolving around Chopin’s music that featured rotating pianists. The piece had some bright moments but left much to be desired in production values and story line. After all the piece was called “Chopin – An Impression”.

Well au revoir for now and remember if you’re going to pull a massive general strike any time soon, do as the French do, bundle up, drink plenty of espresso, eat a good boudon au deux pommes once in awhile and listen carefully to the advice of the sages when they intone…Off with their Heads. Just make sure it’s not your head.

I dedicate this piece to Marion Brown who passed away in mid-October after a long battle with illness.