Robert Bachner – Heart Disc

I first read about Robert Bachner‘s CD Heart Disc about a year ago, I guess. It caught my attention because he was mentioned as a member of the Vienna Art Orchestra. I wasn’t really familiar with Bachner’s name, but the one VAO disc I had at the time was one of my favorite large ensemble discs. I made a mental note that I should pick up Bachner’s CD. A few months ago, I actually noted my intention to buy the disc on a computer desktop stickie note (along with a reminder about a novel I wanted to buy, and a note to call my insurance adjuster).

Well, last week, while on a CD Baby surf fest, I finally ordered it. I’m glad I did, it is a great CD. The compositions are all by Bachner. He is joined by Christian Maurer on tenor and soprano saxes, Reinhard Micko on piano, Uli Langthaler on bass, and Christian Salfellner on drums. The music is often fiery and aggressive, and it swings. It is well crafted music that seems familiar on the first listen.

Bachner’s trombone playing is marvelous. He expresses himself confidently in every tempo, and we never hear any deficit of chops, yet he doesn’t play anything simply because he can. His range and facility are used to very musical ends. He takes full advantage of the trombone’s more aggressive and raucous capabilities (check out the title track) , lets the beauty and sensitivity flow when needed, like on “For Gary,” and always maintains his spark and urgency. The rest of the quintet matches Bachner’s musicality and spirit.

Gary Giddins on Lester Bowie

The updating josh of life, daily. » Gary Giddins on Lester

From Josh Roseman’s blog, referencing a Gary Giddins article in the Village Voice.

The line that scratched my brain was: “…suddenly everything he wrote about Goethe and Marx seemed to be about Lester. “Why should modern men, who have seen what man’s activity can bring about, passively accept the structure of their society as it is given?” A pretext for avant-garde jazz if I ever heard one.”

Poemomatopoeia

Poemomatopoeia

Collaboration with musicians is only natural: Pound’s notion that poetry never strays far from music and Allen Ginsberg’s romantic notion of poetry’s return to its origins in chanted dramatic/choral performance; Olson’s heart-ear-breath. I always edit for reading aloud, & somebody said you shouldn’t put too much emphasis on live reading, on “performance,” because it cheapens poetry, orienting it toward show business instead of writing. But I don’t edit for show business & I’m still pretty uncomfortable with the word “performance.”

But a poem has to read well on the page as well as on stage… it has to hold up over hundreds of silent readings and over hundreds of live ones. I always edit for the voice.

Go beyond preconception—Nathaniel Mackey: “When I first started listening to improvised music in my early teens — up to that point I had mainly been listening to R&B and Rock ‘n’ Roll, popular music you hear on the radio — it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. I don’t know what it was about it that made me go back and give it a chance, but it was something I had to learn how to listen to. And I did learn how to listen to it, by going back and listening on repeated occasions. That was how I got into the music of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and others in the early sixties. I came to the outside players later and had a similar experience with them. In high school I kept reading and hearing about Ornette Coleman in places like Down Beat. There was a lot of fuss being made about what he was up to, so I wanted to check it out. I remember buying an Ornette Coleman album and it just sounded very strange and weird. I couldn’t figure it out but I kept listening to it and after a while it not only made sense to me, there was a beauty to it. It was unlike the beauty that I heard in Miles Davis or John Coltrane, but it was beauty. The ability to get into something that initially is forbidding or intimidating or just doesn’t speak to you at all is one that is tested and proven. I tend to stay with things which may, on first or second or third hearing or reading, present me with difficulties that make it seem like it isn’t going to go anywhere. (…) What any experimental art is trying to get you to do is move beyond your preconceptions and your expectations regarding what should be happening, what’s going to happen, what kinds of effects it should have, and enter a liminal state in which those things can be redefined in the way that the particular artist or piece of art is proposing.”—from an interview with Chris Funkhouser.

“the HEAD, by way of the EAR, to the SYLLABLE
the HEART, by way of the BREATH, to the LINE”

— Charles Olson.

In other words, what you hear you translate into the right syllable to record the sound; the heart provides the beat, pushed by the breath, creating the line. It isn’t a matter of formulated verse patterns but of a freely improvising dynamic pulse, with a regular feel that varies enough to keep it interesting. The difference between formal verse and free verse is like the difference between a drum machine and a live drummer.

Cecil Taylor: “A man like Monk… is concerned with growing and enriching his musical conception, and what he does comes as a living idea out of his life’s experience, not from a theory. It may or may not turn out to be atonal. Similarly, as Miles Davis’ European technical facility becomes sparser, his comment from the Negro folk tradition becomes more incisive. He’s been an important innovator in jazz, but again, not out of theory, but out of what he hears and lives.” –liner notes, The Cecil Taylor Quartet: Looking Ahead!

Language is not a virus, contrary to William Burroughs, repeated by Laurie Anderson and others. It’s a beautiful gift without which we would be immensely lonely. Poetry is a way of life, not a contest. I am not here to get ahead of anybody, but to share what I’ve got.

There has to be a little mystery built in,
or no one will read to the end
& that’s why people hate poetry,
they say it’s purposely obscure & speaks in a some fancy, foreign tongue….
just like life it defies easy explanation
just like life speaks in a language you don’t understand

Harris Eisenstadt – The Soul and Gone

Cool titles are usually a sign of an open mind. Harris Eisenstadt’s The Soul and Gone has some cool titles, like the opening track “The Evidence of Absence is Not Necessarily the Absence of Evidence.

Canadian born percussionist and composer Eisenstadt enlisted some of Chicago’s more interesting improvisers for The Soul and Gone. He is joined by Jason Adasiewicz on vibraphone, trombonist Jeb Bishop, Jason Mears on alto sax and clarinet, guitarist Jeff Parker, and Jason Roebke on bass. The music is often about textures and grooves. It swings in places, gets noisy at times, and takes advantage of the available instrumentation. At times the combination of guitar and vibes yields a sounds that is evocative and absorbing. Bishop and Mears each provide memorable solos, and also do a fabulous job as ensemble players. The compositions frame and guide the improvisations successfully.

The Soul and Gone is released on 482 Music, and is available from CD Baby.

Lacy-Rudd School Days

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.

Art Diet

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.

Why is that boat on the sidewalk?

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?

On a different topic…

(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.”)