An interesting review of a “public aesthetic ritual.”
There is so much good music out there, that real gems can elude discovery for long periods of time. The high noise floor of well marketed but mediocre stuff available doesn’t always make it any easier to find the gems. Sometimes the hidden gems are musicians or groups that are emerging from, or wallowing in obscurity. These are gems that are hidden from much of the world of music lovers. Other times the gems are simply hidden from individuals, while being well known (or at least known) to the listening public at large.
One of my recently unearthed gems falls into that latter category. I had heard about the early 1960’s Steve Lacy/Rowell Rudd Quartet that performed the music of Thelonious Monk, but I had not heard it until recently. I ordered the hatOLOGY reissue of their 1963 session School Days, while exploring the Cadence website. It is amazing to me that I hadn’t sought out this recording earlier in my life. I have a great affinity for Monk’s music, as well as piano-less quartets fronted by trombone and sax, so this CD is right up my alley.
The back of the CD lists no composer credits, but under the title offers the sub-title “Improvisations on compositions by Thelonious Monk.” This doesn’t feel like repertory treatment of Monk’s material. It feels more like the compositions are the fifth member of a free improvisation. Monk’s tunes have an organic order that creates an inescapable gravity, that both keeps the performers in the spirit of the tunes, and allows them to wander about, knowing that they will be held in orbit around the core of the composition.
The performances are buoyant and animated. I can hear the comfort and confidence that come from regular working relationships amongst the musicians. Lacy and Rudd set each other off in beautiful stylistic distinction. The rhythm section of Henry Grimes and Dennis Charles swings hard, and captures the spirit of the soloists and the tunes.
As soon as I heard the first few notes of this CD, the music grabbed me. I’m glad I found it, or it found me, or however that works. Keep looking for those hidden gems.
For the last few months, I have been trying to lose weight. It has been working. I’ve lost about 25 pounds. Not surprisingly, the most effective weight loss method is to eat less and exercise more. What I eat is also important. If my vegetables are fresh and green, I feel better than if my vegetables come out of a potato chip bag or french fries container. I lose more weight when my afternoon snack is a handful of nuts, instead of a bag of M&M’s. None of this is shocking information.
The recent attention to my physical nourishment has me thinking of my artistic nourishment as well. A healthy diet of food contains all types of food. Proteins, fats, carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables are all present in healthy proportions when we feed our bodies properly. What do we need to feed our artistic selves a balanced diet?
Balanced artistic intake is important both as a creator and a patron of art. The Oxford American Dictionaries define art as “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination.” To appreciate art and receive nourishment from it, one must actively participate in the experience. You can’t just see the painting or sculpture; you must look at it. It is not enough to hear the music; you must listen. Simply reading the words does not reveal the poetry; you must be open to the message. These are not skills that come naturally to many modern Americans, nor people of other cultures I would imagine. We must practice these skills and develop them. It is not enough to eat right; we must exercise as well.
My primary artistic outlet is music, but I have found that involvement in other art forms only enhances my musical expression. To that end, and in the general interest of my artistic health, I have come up with this art diet to help me balance my artistic consumption.
-Read literature every day. Most of us read quite a bit daily. (You are reading this now.) While I find Boing Boing, DownBeat, and my local newspaper interesting and informative, they aren’t necessarily artistically nourishing. Read a poem. Read a novel. Re-read that classic piece of literature that you were forced to read in school. They are classics for a reason. Try something new. Buy a book by a living author you have never read.
-Listen to music everyday. We all hear music everyday, in our cars, or at the grocery store, or on the kitchen radio while we cook dinner. How much time do we spend with music as the sole focus of our attention? Sit down and listen to an entire symphony. Don’t read the liner notes, don’t look at the cover, don’t just put it on while you clean the house. Really listen. Let the music be the active focus of your attention. When was the last time you really listened to Kind of Blue? It’s a classic for a reason.
-Hear live music as often as possible. Nothing feels like the vibrations created by a 70-piece orchestra in a great hall. Seeing the musical communication of great improvisers casts the music in a new light. Seeing, feeling and smelling the performance only enhances the hearing of it.
-Go to museums. Looking at art online and in books is cool, but standing in front of the 14 foot tall Dali painting “The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus” at the Dali Museum (in St. Petersburg, FL.) is a totally different experience. Take the time to check out every museum in your town, and look for museums when you travel.
-Make your own art. Write a poem, draw a picture, sing a song. Express and apply your creative skill and imagination.
Having a balanced art diet, coupled with healthy artistic exercise will make us better musicians, artists, writers, scientists, engineers, teachers, bus drivers, accountants, or whatever else we might be. And it will make us better people.
Note: Poetry is not my usual form of expresssion, but this came out tonight, so I thought I’d share it with you here.
Why is that boat on the sidewalk?
Why does reading the newspaper make me cry?
Why can’t Eddie and Ray and David and Mary quit fighting with each other?
Why are there men with machine guns in the parking lot at JC Penny’s?
Why are my friends suddenly spread across the world?
Why is it quiet on Frenchmen Street?
Why do I miss the Thai monkeys?
Why can’t I have lunch on the porch at Sid-Mar?
Why can’t I hear Kidd and Fred on Sunday?
Why can’t I make a phone call?
Why does it take 30 minutes to drive 3 miles?
Why are those men laughing?
Why does the music sound so good?
Why do I still feel fortunate and blessed?
(Guest post by Jeb Bishop)
Over a beer the other day I read Harry Frankfurt’s essay On Bullshit, published by Princeton University Press. Frankfurt was a professor of philosophy at Princeton and this essay apparently circulated underground for quite a while before its publication, acquiring a semi-legendary status.
The humor inherent in the idea of an academic approach to this topic is obvious, but the book (a fairly quick read) is not a joke, being in fact a serious attempt at “the development of a theoretical understanding of bullshit,” or an articulation of the “structure of its concept.” I found it absorbing and thought-provoking, especially in light of the fact that, as its very first sentence states, “One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit.”
But the reason I was moved to post about it was simply that I was so delighted by the following sentence, which in its style and perspicacity puts me in mind of Mark Twain:
“The realms of advertising and of public relations, and the nowadays closely related realm of politics, are replete with instances of bullshit so unmitigated that they can serve among the most indisputable and classic paradigms of the concept.”
You just want to cheer a sentence like that.
(It occurs to me to hope that I am not breaking any posting rules here. What can I say, I like the word “bullshit.”)
There are so many approaches to musical freedom. Some free music is very noisy and cacophonous. I have a marvelous drummer friend who was once told that he “wasn’t playing free enough.” From the context he took that mean that it wasn’t noisy enough. Many music lovers are scared of the noise in free music. Freedom doesn’t have to be noisy, but noise is usually at least one component of the gumbo that makes up good free music.
The free music that usually moves me is the music that keeps everything on the table all the time. Noise, swing, bebop lines, funk grooves, pretty chorales, and pointilistic squeeks and squonks are all available if not all employed. Musical freedom is not complete freedom if any sound is disallowed by stylistic convention or performer’s preconception. In the same way that political freedom is incomplete if the voter’s only choices are democrats or republicans. The green party, libertarians, communists, and the local nut that wants to be on the city council, along with any one else who wishes, must be on the ballot for the voters to have real freedom of choice.
I just picked up a CD called Several Lights by Chicago Luzern Exchange, which is a group made up of Chicago based cornetist Josh Berman, saxophonist Keefe Jackson, drummer Frank Rosaly and Luzern based tubist Marc UnternÃ¤hrer. There are 19 tracks on the CD, several under 3 minutes. It is noisy in spots, but more often it is subtly melodic. It is sonically dense in places, and quite sparse in others. It is the kind of free that I find rewarding as a listener. Check it out, it is a Delmark release.
Tonight my family had dinner at a Chinese buffet. Next to us were two tables occupied by a pair of families. One table was populated by the adults, and the other by four teenage offspring. Not children anymore, but not adults yet either. There was one young man at that table that seemed to be going out of his way to be different. He was a bit dorky and seemed like the type of guy that ten years from now would either be the manager of his local Radio Shack, or selling his software company for $35 mil.
At one point I looked over and he was eating his ice cream with the handle end of his spoon. It seemed apparent that he was doing this in the hope that someone would tell him he couldn’t. No one did. The parents were at the other table. When nearly all of the ice cream was gone, he flipped the spoon around and used the standard end, because otherwise he would have had to leave those last few precious drops of melted chocolate ice cream at the bottom of the bowl.
My first reaction to all of this was, “He can’t do that!” Then I asked myself why he couldn’t do that. There is etiquette that tells us we must use the proper end of the spoon to eat our ice cream. I also had a college composition teacher tell me I couldn’t put the #11 in the bass line, especially on beat three. I changed it for my senior recital, but I changed it back 12 years later when the tune was dug up and recorded. I was told I couldn’t do that, but I did, and no one got hurt, and people have even told me they like it! If they only knew about the #11 in the bass line. What would they think then?
The rules of society are there to guide us to behave in a way that will elicit the desired response. Those rules change to some extent depending on one’s target audience, and one’s desired response. Painting your fingernails black is not the best way to get invited to the church choir potluck, but in the ’80’s I knew people that would hardly speak to anyone that didn’t have at least one black fingernail.
Most great art breaks the rules, or at least breaks the rules of the preceding generation. Charlie Parker was all about playing great melodies through lots of changes. Ornette Coleman is all about playing great melodies over no set changes. They both broke rules and upset people, but now kids are being taught rules for how to play like Bird. If we follow the bebop rules, we will get a certain response from a certain audience. Someone out there right now is breaking those rules, and being told that they are wrong. 30 years from now kids will be taught the rules for how to play like that someone, and the next someone will break those rules.
It’s funny that I am a greater stickler for societal rules than musical rules. I keep telling my stepson to put on socks and tie his shoes, but I keep telling my improvisation students to forget what I say and play what they hear, and it’s ok.
Regarding “Woodburners We Recommend”: Poet Bob Arnold writes, publishes, and distributes books in Guilford, Vermont. He is currently raising money to help displaced New Orleans musicians through street busking: poetry and fiddle, guitar and verse. You get so used to big bureaucratic relief efforts, Red Cross, FEMA, these sometime giants who arrive in your ruined neighborhood, stay a month, and then take off for the next disaster, that you lose sight of what one person can do to assist. A nation of activists is what we need. Yesterday Bob raised $40 on the streets that he’s sending on to a musicians’ relief effort. Today he sent $100 to a fund established by Preservation Hall. It takes just a little, to mean a lot…
Each one, reach one.
The poem below, by Mikhail Horowitz, was published by Bob Arnold in his Woodburners We Recommend series and is available as a postcard for $5 American money. Bob’s “mission statement” for the Woodburners’ series follows the poem.
A Woodburners We Recommend Publication 2005 series
For New Orleans, 9/7/05
Love Thy Poet Postcard Series
For New Orleans, 9/7/05
Fell asleep last eve
to the TV tolling its knell
a bottomless bass chord
over the drowned ninth ward
& dreamed of divine intervention:
a congress of loas
& a subcommittee of spirits
raising & conjuring
all of the city’s pianos, &
sending them in a great
mahogany armada to plug the
levee, stopping the water &
stemming the flood of betrayal,
the deluge of political indifference,
with all the music of all the hearts
that made this city the soul
of these drowned States
~ Mikhail Horowitz
WOODBURNERS WE RECOMMEND PUBLICATION SERIES 2005
Mikhail Horowitz. “For New Orleans, 9/7/05”. Longhouse, 2005. First edition.
Love Thy Poet 35. Card. Fine and bright. Limited edition. Poetry. $5 (+ $1 s/h).
As an act of goodwill and for poetry – Longhouse is sending out each month complete publications – online – of one poet (or more) we have published in booklet, broadside or postcard form for everyone to share.
It’s a way of giving back to many of you who have sent to us poems, letters, purchases and the same goodwill over the years. The series will fly in under the banner of our Woodburners We Recommend. It should also be felt as a certain warmth in memory to all our close and dear poetry comrades passed along – each one becoming more of a loss.
Each monthly booklet will also be available for purchase from Longhouse. Issued in a very limited keepsake edition of 50 copies. Starting in 2006 we will begin to reissue and present past issues from Longhouse of select poets. For those readers that travel back as far as 1972 when Longhouse began, you know poetry was released like bandits by the day, by the week, by the month, and always free. We have never taken on grants and meant poetry to be seen & heard & on poetry terms. From 2005, into the Infinite, and within the universal cyber cosmos, we would like to share multiple poets with you….and only ask that you share them further.
¬© 2005 Mikhail Horowitz
¬© September 2005 Bob & Susan Arnold at Longhouse
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Being a professional musician has many benefits and a few drawbacks as well. One drawback is that it is hard to listen to music simply as a music lover. I am often analyzing music as I listen, or making judgments about aspects of what I am hearing that I want to incorporate or avoid in my own music. It is rare that I hear something that really hits me in a visceral way, and makes me want to listen just for fun, but when I do hear that music, it reminds me why I play music.
The first time I remember hearing (actually reading) about Ken Vandermark was shortly after he was awarded the Macarthur Grant. Downbeat did a story about a Brotzmann Chicago Tentet tour. A year or more later, I downloaded a couple of Vandermark 5 albums from eMusic. Sometime after that I heard Jeb Bishop’s trio, with Kent Kessler and Tim Mulveena, at the Blue Nile in New Orleans. They were playing Jeb’s music, not Vandermark 5 material, but it was 3/5 of that band, and hearing people make music live usually connects better than recordings.
One of my initial reasons for wanting to explore the music of the V5 was the presence of trombone. After hearing Jeb in New Orleans, I began to search out recordings that featured him. (Full Disclosure: Jeb has since become a friend and he has been invited to contribute to Scratch My Brain. So if you are thinking that I am just writing nice stuff about my friends, you are right, but I was digging the music before we met.) This led me to a number of V5 albums, and the music hit me in that way that makes me want to just listen and enjoy.
Much of what moves me about the V5 is the variety. At times it swings really hard, and at other times it can be funky or noisy, or sound like a punk band in 7. I like having any style or vibe available at any time. As a listener, I love not knowing what will come next.
There are a couple of recent releases by the Vandermark 5 that I am really enjoying these days. Their new studio CD is called Color of Memory. There is another recent release called Alchemia that is a 12 disc limited edition box set of a week’s worth of live performances in Krakow. These two releases are great companions. There are several tunes on Color of Memory that were written during the week in Krakow, and on Alchemia we get a chance to hear these tunes develop.
Ken Vandermark has been very outspoken about that fact that the best way to experience the music of his bands is through regular live performances. Hearing the band a number of times in close proximity allows the listener to hear developments that would be missed in any single performance. That is hard to do unless one lives in Chicago, because even in major cities it is rare that the band would play more than one or two nights consecutively. Alchemia gives us all a chance to hear every note the band played over the course of 5 consecutive nights. The V5 staples, the new tunes, a jazz standard or two, and the free jams with local guests are all there. It is a musical listening experience that is unheard of via recorded music.
I think that tradition is an oft-misunderstood concept in jazz. Too often, sounding like the past is mistaken for respecting the tradition. I believe the spirit of the music is the most important part of the jazz tradition, and that spirit is exciting and honest and probing, and musically inclusive. These new Vandermark 5 recordings have that spirit.
Both Color of Memory and Alchemia are available from the Atavistic website.